Smoking is socially unacceptable Are you too physically addicted to cigarettes to free yourself from them?
Usually, you start smoking when you are young and at first you own smoking and you can quit anytime. However, bit by bit smoking starts to own you and eventually it does and many of us feel as if it is now an addiction. The tobacco companies and the perception of society reinforce this.
Most people have tried to quit smoking but have not succeeded, and this reinforces the perception of smoking being an addiction. It’s not just stopping smoking that’s important, but how you stop.
A Russian psychologist named Pavlov trained dogs to salivate when they heard a bell. It did this by associating food with the sound of a bell. Just like Pavlov, you have trained yourself to smoke with certain triggers.
Some people will readily jump on the idea of physical addiction as justification for their continuing smoking.
I’m sure you’ve heard it… “But I have an addictive personality!” But as we’re just about to see, there is more to it than that…
The mania for categorising human experiences and behaviours has led us to believe that we must behave in certain ways. One of these ways is to say, “it’s an addiction”.
There are all sorts of stories and articles out there that will tell you that nicotine is highly addictive. The truth is, nicotine can have some effects on the pleasure centres of the brain but the longer you smoke, and the more you smoke, the less the effect. Some people can and do experience what feels like strong withdrawal when they quit smoking, but this has nothing to do with addiction.
How much is a pure physical addiction, and how much is the psychological expectation?
The truth is nicotine is gone from the body pretty fast – it doesn’t stick around for long. Your blood pressure and pulse rate return to their normal levels a mere 20 minutes after your last cigarette. After just 12 hours, your blood oxygen levels will get back to normal and toxic carbon monoxide levels will have fallen within normal range.
After 48 hours, damaged nerve endings repair, and the sense of taste and smell begin to return. And after only 72 hours, your body will test completely nicotine-free. Any physically-based craving will have peaked after this time also.
The body will quickly begin to repair itself despite the damage caused by smoking. Unconsciously your body and mind want to be healthy. Given a chance, and if the damage from smoking is not too advanced, the body can repair itself.
I have treated many people that have smoked at least 40 cigarettes a day, the interesting thing is that these people quit smoking easier than people who smoke less than 10 cigarettes a day. What is more interesting is that the people who have smoked 40 plus cigarettes a day have not suffered from so-called withdrawal symptoms.
If smoking were just a physical addiction – or even if the physical addiction side of it was all-important, then you wouldn’t find such people quitting so comfortably.
What is important in maintaining the smoking habit is your psychological expectation, which you have had from experience.
The truth is that what you expect affects your body just as strongly as your mind. If you expect to get something and you do, it affects your body and mind, the feeling of relief and relaxation.
We have all heard of people that have made themselves sick or have just cured themselves by the power of their mind, the power of their expectations. If expectation can make a difference between life and death, it can certainly make a difference in your experience of stopping smoking.
I have found that most people I have worked with do not have so-called withdrawal symptoms. If you look at quitting smoking as a healing process rather than a withdrawal process, there is no need for withdrawal symptoms. When you expect to heal, you heal. When you expect to withdraw, you withdraw.
So if we can remove a large amount of expectation that nicotine withdrawal will be terrible, then all a person has to deal with is the physical element of letting their body heal. This is why we use hypnosis – because it is much better at helping you change your expectations than willpower is.
Expectations can work both ways, they can help you quit smoking, but they can also keep you smoking.
Imagine you had a crazy finger-clicking habit.
You click your fingers one thousand times every day. You don’t click all the time, though. You click during breaks at work. You click your fingers with a cup of coffee and an alcoholic drink after work when socializing or perhaps irritatingly for your partner after your most intimate bedroom moments.
Now imagine you’ve clicked your fingers like this for thirty years. Every cup of coffee for thirty years has been consumed with your clicking.
The thought of having a coffee or drink or break at work without clicking your fingers clicking would feel weird! You might wonder what you would do with your hands at social gatherings if you couldn’t click your fingers. You have trained your brain and body to expect to finger click, just like Pavlov’s dogs.
The connection between smoking and having a coffee is no more natural than clicking your fingers and having a coffee. But when we do something – anything – often enough, we come to expect is as natural. This is how any learning takes place.
Okay, so back to our finger-clicking analogy: When it comes time to quit the habit, you might come to believe you are physically addicted, whereas what you have is a set of powerful psychological associations between finger-clicking and certain situations.
We know this is true of smoking. Even the heaviest smokers have periods when they do not smoke when they fly or are absorbed. However, whenever a situation arises that is linked to smoking (trigger), they smoke. The desire to smoke is linked to a trigger and not a physical craving.
Can you sleep the night without smoking? Can you fly in a plane for a long time without smoking? Can you go without a cigarette when you are absorbed in a task?
If the answer is yes to the above, then you are not too physically addicted to thinking about quitting smoking. You are not addicted in the true sense to smoking.

About Steve Gardiner

Stephen Gardiner originates from Rhodesia, (Zimbabwe) then working around the globe before finally settling in Brisbane Australia. As a scientist, Steve always had an interest in human development, especially Mind Plastisicity and how we cope with stress, anxiety and addictive behaviours. Over the past 15 years Steve has assisted many clients to transform their lives by resolving the obstacles holding them back.

Entries by Steve Gardiner