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New Year Resolution - how to stop smoking
By John R. Polito
Dec 31, 2002, 11:48:00

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Quitting Cold Turkey - No, I'm Not Tired of Cold Turkey!

Have you tried all the quit smoking magic cures? Still hooked? Is it possible that you skipped the most important step of all? When did you take the time to read the instructions that came with your addiction?

Will the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve 2002-2003 really be the exact moment in time when you quit smoking forever and permanently break nicotine's powerful grip upon your life? Does it really need to be?

In truth, quitting on December 31, January 2, January 8, in the middle of any day, tomorrow, or even before that next puff are all perfect times to begin the up to 72 hours needed to purge your body of all nicotine so that chemical withdrawal can peak in intensity and then begin to gradually decline. In truth, any moment that you choose to reclaim your life is a glorious moment indeed.

Contrary to what you'll read, it doesn't take massive planning, truckloads of motivation, costly magic cures, a certain number of attempts, or you making major changes in your life, in order to quit. It requires only desire and you taking the time -- at long last -- to read the instructions that came with your addiction.

More than 90% of all successful quitters alive today - an estimated 1.2 billion - quit smoking cold turkey. Most of them discovered the power of nicotine - just one puff - through repeated failures and the school of hard-quit-knocks. Could education have served as a shortcut?

Tobacco users who continue to treat their chemical addiction to nicotine like a nasty little habit are likely to continue to experience defeat. Cocaine creates true chemical dependency in 15% of all regular users, alcohol about 10%, and nicotine between 70 - 90% depending upon how dependency is defined. The experts tell us that intoxication has nothing to do with addiction. Yes, we nicotine addicts are "real" live honest-to-goodness drug addicts.

The law of addiction is simple and its understanding crucial. If a former nicotine addict uses any nicotine, even one puff, they are all but assured of full and complete relapse back to their old level of nicotine intake or higher.

Nicotine permanently enslaves the same brain reward pathways as other addictive drugs, except far more efficiently and in a far greater percentage of humans. Whether you quit for a day, a month, a year or a decade, just one puff of new nicotine and your period of healing and freedom are over.

Nicotine's half-life in the human body is two hours. Within 72 hours the quitter's body is nicotine free and chemical withdrawal peaks in intensity as the brain begins sensing the arrival of, and adjusting to, nicotine free blood serum. But, just one puff and the early quitter must again endure the anxieties associated with another 72 hours of nicotine cleansing. Few of us are strong enough to go toe-to-toe with nicotine but then we don't need to be as nicotine’s I.Q. is zero. Don't try to out-muscle your addiction, outsmart it.

When it comes to true chemical addiction, there is no such thing as having "just one." It's a destructive illusion that kills. Instead of picturing that one "perfect" smoke, picture all the others that come with it. Instead of trying to cheat or reward yourself by bumming just one cigarette, grab the entire pack and run because you’re going to need every single one of them, and the thousands more that follow. There is only one rule to staying free - NEVER TAKE ANOTHER PUFF!

Quitting smoking is a temporary period of adjustment during which a nicotine dependent person develops the patience needed to allow themselves to once again become 100% comfortable functioning with natural levels of dopamine and adrenaline. Peak chemical withdrawal occurs within 72 hours and within 10 days to two weeks the brain has chemically adjusted to functioning without nicotine.

Psychological recovery also normally peaks at about day three, when an "average" of six crave episodes occur. A crave episode is triggered by encountering a time, place, location, emotion, event, or activity that acted as a conditioned cue for your subconscious mind to begin to expect the arrival of new nicotine. It's the ingrained nicotine feeding patterns that you selected to fulfill your chemical addiction's endless need for more.

The good news is that most triggers are reconditioned and discarded by the mind with a single encounter. The good news is that no crave episode will last longer than three minutes but be sure and look at a clock as your mind may try and convince you that the minutes are hours. The good news is that the "average" quitter experiences just eighteen minutes of craves on the most challenging day - day three. The good news is that by day ten the "average" quitter is experiencing just 1.4 craves per day.

You may have established more feeding cues than the "average" quitter but even if you are compelled to meet, greet and defeat ten triggers on your most challenging day, that's still no more than thirty minutes of crave episode anxiety on the worst day of all. Can you handle 30 minutes of substantial anxiety? Sure you can, we all can.

Within a few weeks you'll begin experiencing entire days without encountering an un-reconditioned crave trigger, but remain alert. After going a few days without a crave episode it's normal to let your guard down, and when a trigger is eventually encountered it is likely to feel like you've been caught off-guard and sucker-punched. The crave was no more intense than others. It's just that you were no longer in battle mode, awaiting its arrival.

As the number of craves continue to dwindle, your focus will turn to a phase where you'll find yourself sorting through and dealing with thousands or even millions of independent memories associated with years of lighting, puffing, tasting, smelling, inhaling, sensing, ashing, butting, needing, craving, feeding, buying and sharing your addiction.

At times, a sea of thoughts can seem to flood your mind. Unlike crave episodes, thoughts can linger on as long as you allow them. The good news is that to a great extent we can control our thoughts. The good news is that with each passing day you'll experience fewer and fewer thoughts of wanting to smoke. The good news is that within just a few months you'll begin to experience entire days where you never once think about wanting to smoke.

An important expectations tip is to abandon all thought of quitting forever - a mighty big bite to chew upon - and instead view each day of freedom as the full and complete victory that it truly is. If you insist upon measuring success in terms of quitting forever, when will you be entitled to celebrate? What good is celebrating once you're dead?

Below are a dozen solid quitting tips to help take the "cold" out of cold turkey quitting. For additional information, motivation enhancement, group support, free counseling, and hundreds of additional pointers visit, a free online forum staffed by volunteers.

1) Drink plenty of fruit juices the first three days to help avoid symptoms associated with wild blood sugar swings - headaches, an inability to concentrate, dizziness, time perception distortions and the ubiquitous sweet tooth. Cranberry juice is excellent.

Nicotine fed you by indirectly pumping stored fats and sugars into your blood via adrenaline releases. It allowed us to skip meals and yet not feel hungry because nicotine was feeding us. Normal people must eat. It isn't a matter of consuming more calories but of learning to spread our daily intake out more evenly over the entire day.

2) Blood studies have shown that nicotine accelerates the rate at which caffeine is metabolized by 203%. This means that nicotine smokers may need twice the caffeine as non-smokers in order to feel the same effects from caffeine.

If you are a heavy caffeine drinker (over 750 mg) and you failed to reduce your caffeine intake by roughly half during prior quitting attempts then it's likely that you found yourself climbing every wall in sight. Don't give up your caffeine but do understand why you may need less.

3) Quit for yourself not others. If you quit for others, what will happen the first time they disappoint you? We call it "junkie thinking" and it is a "quit" killer. Don't entrust your cessation motivation to anyone but you. It may be fun to have a quitting buddy along but do not lean upon them as a primary source of motivation. Also don't expect your family to appreciate what it's like for a drug addict during withdrawal and recovery unless they've ever been chemically dependent themselves. It just isn't fair.

4) Although you may need to reduce your caffeine intake or take great care in using alcohol during the first week, don't give up anything in your life when quitting except for nicotine. Also, don't pick-up any new crutches either, good or bad. Food can be a crutch but so can any abrupt or major lifestyle change, even exercise programs. A crutch is any new activity that you are relying and depending upon to help you quit. You don't need any crutches.

5) Write down all of your reasons for quitting, keep them close at hand, and use them as a powerful crave coping tool during challenging moments. Also, take a few notes or keep a diary during the first few days so that you can document what withdrawal was like. The mind quickly suppresses life's negative memories. Preserve them as both a yardstick to measure your healing and a tool to renew and invigorate your motivation to stay quit.

6) What will you do to get though a craving that lasts up to three minutes? Have both a primary plan and at least one back-up and use them all if need be. Three approaches during crave episodes are to briefly distract your mind, to relax it, or to confront the crave head-on.

Distraction can be any activity that works for you including walking away from the relapse threat, a brief period of exercise, or even screaming into a pillow. Try reciting your ABCs while associating each letter with a food (A is for Grandma's hot apple pie).

Relaxation can range form of a five minute shower to a few slow deep breaths while clearing your mind of all chatter and focusing on your favorite color, object, person or place.

Crave confrontation can be empowering. In your mind relax while reaching out and embracing your crave. It can not hurt you, cut you or make you bleed. Wrap your arms around it. Sense its power peak in intensity and then slowly begin to subside. Victory is yours!

In that a crave episode is always less than three minutes, delay is your friend. Get rid of all your cigarettes and build-in a bit of delay. With tobacco having a 50% kill rate - each dying an average of more than 5,000 days early - chemical withdrawal is not a time for mind games. You have nothing to prove.

7) On September 11, 2002, a new California study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) which concluded that "NRT appears no longer effective in increasing long-term successful cessation in California smokers." Here is a link to the JAMA study -

NRT is the nicotine patch, gum, spray, inhaler and lozenge. Nicotine is nicotine, as it all comes from the same plant. In the "real-world" those using NRT are not part of some highly structured medical study whose education program focused exclusively on successful nicotine delivery device transfer (from tobacco to NRT device), while ignoring the abrupt nicotine cessation education needs of those in the control or placebo group - like "Tips" one and two above.

Not only does NRT needlessly prolong nicotine withdrawal, the fact that it does so is being used in many studies in order to claim success. For example, in the new nicotine lozenge studies the authors declare successful "cessation" at three months while study participants continue using the nicotine lozenge for six months.

The slight of hand is in defining "quitting" as quitting smoking and not in breaking nicotine's powerful grip upon the brain's dopamine reward pathways. Under definitions used in most medical studies a nicotine smoker who gets hooked on nicotine gum or chewing tobacco has successfully quit. Keep your eye on the nicotine!

8) Your body's healing is likely to trigger one of the most vivid dreams in your entire life. Don't be afraid as it is perfectly normal. You may awake convinced that you have actually smoked, when what your improved senses of smell and taste have sampled are the odors being given off during the breakdown of tars inside horizontal healing lungs.

9) Although metabolism changes can account for a pound or two of weight gain, within just ninety days of quitting you can expect an almost one-third increase in overall lung function. The ability to build cardiovascular endurance is a powerful tool for change. Quitting smoking does not cause major weight gain - eating does.

Two quick points. Smoking was your old cue that a meal had ended and you may need to find a healthy new cue (walk, dishes, tooth-pic, brushing your teeth). Also, with nicotine feeding us, many smokers are not used to encountering and dealing with true hunger. Whether you eat with a shovel or a teaspoon it still takes roughly 25 minutes for your body to digest those first few bites so that the brain's hunger switch can be turned off. When hunger arrives eat as slowly as possible.

10) In dealing with symptoms it is fairly safe to blame quitting for almost everything you feel during the first three days, but after that you need to listen more closely to your body and contact your doctor should you have any lingering concerns.

Each puff of smoke introduced over 500 gases and 3,500 chemical particles into your body. Some of those chemicals could have been hiding or masking a serious underlying condition (for example asthma or thyroid conditions) or even interacting with medications that you were already taking (like depression meds). It is not unusual for medications to need adjusting.

11) Even though you are leaving an extremely abusive and destructive relationship, the endless cycle of using nicotine to briefly satisfy your dependency created a powerful bond. During this temporary journey of adjustment from active smoker to comfortable ex-smoker, the emotional sense of loss and the phases you'll go through can be similar to those experienced during the death of a loved one - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Although it is normal to feel a short term sense of loss when quitting, chronic organic depression is also real and for some smokers nicotine became a deadly means of medicating it. If you become at all concerned about lingering depression then seek medical assistance not nicotine!

12) While quitting, the next few minutes will always be doable. One of the greatest challenges faced by the new quitter is in developing quitting patience after a lifetime of sensing new nicotine arrive in their brain within 10 seconds of a new puff. Give yourself a couple of minutes and the worst will pass. Someday soon you'll look back upon your biggest challenge of all as your greatest moment of glory.

Just one day at a time, baby steps and never forget the golden rule - no nicotine - NEVER TAKE ANOTHER PUFF!

John R. Polito.
Nicotine Cessation Instructor

© Copyright 2002 by the author(s) and

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