Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: smoking cessation (page 1 of 2)

You’re Already Awesome.


Judson Brewer M.D. teaches stone nicotine addicts how to quit by teaching them how to meditate. He’s a psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine who, by some apparent miracle, trained in mindfulness meditation while studying medicine at Wash U in St. Louis.

He’d been studying stress in mice but after meditation training evidently decided that it might be more useful to study stress in humans. So he switched his research focus to the connections between stress, mindfulness and “the addictive process,” as he calls it.

Brewer’s Yale lab has found that mindfulness (i.e., meditation, i.e., Step 11) is twice as effective as leading treatments (read: drugs) developed for smoking cessation. His studies show …

Read the rest at Recovering the Body. And please subscribe there.

Are Cigarette Smokers “Really” Addicts?

SmokingWhile I was in the UK for my father-in-law’s funeral last week, I had an interesting talk with someone who has tried and failed for some years to quit smoking.

This guy has been smoking for half his life. He started at about 16, and he’s 32. (Studies show that when people start smoking as teens—or using any drug, including alcohol—it’s much harder to quit later.) When he was 18 or 20, back when nicotine patches were prescription-only, his father paid for patches. And the patches worked to help him stop. But then he started smoking again. Since then he’s quit “a bunch of times,” as he said, but has never been able to stay quit.

I remember asking him after the first time, when he was maybe 21, why he found it so hard to stop smoking. This was around the time my mother died of lung cancer, and before my own addiction became entrenched—before I understood the ways addiction becomes woven throughout the fabric of life, the ways it changes the neurological system.

He had given me simple answers: He was always desperate for the first morning cigarette with his coffee. He missed having a cigarette with his friends when he went for a beer. He wanted a cigarette when he smelled other people having cigarettes. Smoking helped him deal with stress.

So, as the author of an addiction blog I was thinking to myself, here’s some reasons he found it hard to quit:

  • the morning hit of nicotine potentiating the caffeine—people have always used drugs together; addicts get used to using them together; think Speedball, think alcohol and Valium (a combination that has killed many people), think ecstasy and speed. Hell, think Four Loko, the crazy-ass combination of caffeine and booze that has landed college kids in the hospital in the past year.
  • the social aspect of using—he missed smoking with the people he drank and smoked with. When he went out drinking, it was natural also to smoke. He couldn’t do one without the other. (In fact, he might not have been able to socialize without drinking. I mean holy God, I understand this.)
  • simple sensory triggers—cigarette smoke creating what we addicts call “euphoric recall.” He sniffed the smoke, he suddenly remembered the burn at the back of his throat, his mouth watered, he just needed a cigarette. Alcoholics feel the fire down their throats when they see someone drinking; opiate addicts feel the spreading warmth in the bottom of their bellies when they come across “paraphernalia” or actual drugs.

And then, of course, the all-time biggest “trigger” of them all: stress. (When I was using, getting up in the morning was stress enough to make me use. Vikes with morning coffee, anyone?)

We were on a walk in a park with a group of family and I heard a particular, very familiar loose bronchial cough come out of his mouth.

“You’re not STILL smoking?” I said.

He unzipped a jacket pocket and showed me a packet of Marlboros. UK law dictates one entire side of the package be printed with the warning, “SMOKING KILLS.”

“Dude,” I said, “you have to stop.” He knows all about my mother, blah blah blah. And there we were, standing with some of his closest family.

“I know,” he said.

I asked him what was making it hard for him. He said he found it impossible not to smoke when he goes out drinking with his buddies, “and also smoking spliff makes it hard. I mean, smoking anything would make it hard,” he said. Bingo. Using other drugs. Alcohol and weed.

What’s necessary? Well, how about total abstinence and a program of spiritual fitness… But most smokers don’t see themselves as “real addicts” so they don’t think going that far is necessary.

“I’m gearing up to create the Master Plan for quitting for good,” he said. “But I don’t know what it’ll be yet.”

We talked about Chantix, which he hadn’t heard about. I told him Chantix had worked for friends of mine for whom all else had failed.

Chantix might get him clean, but staying clean is another matter. As every recovering addict knows.

He was speaking really laconically, as though he had all the time in the world to quit, as though the warning printed on the packet in his pocket were just an ad he didn’t have to pay attention to. Addicts have very selective attention. And most smokers don’t consider themselves addicts.

In fact: in trawling through some research today, I found this astonishing paper published in the journal Addiction. In this paper, “Believing in Nicotine Addiction: Does It Really Make Quitting More Likely?”* the researchers suggest that it’s counterproductive for smokers to think of themselves as “addicts” because, in some studies, those who did “expressed weaker intentions to stop smoking and had much lower expectations regarding their perceived ability to do so.”

I was amazed. They’re paying these guys to sit in a room and tell people who can’t quit a lethal substance to deny they have a real addiction. I mean, take the logic a step further: if smokers should not “believe” in their addictions, why shouldn’t alcoholics and heroin users also take the same strategy? Why don’t they just do away with rehabs and tell us all, “You’re not really addicted—believing you’ve got an addiction just takes away your power and responsibility to quit.” Unbelievable.

Nicotine addiction is real. I’ve seen it. It killed my mother. She was a prodigiously intelligent and beautiful woman who died at 58, after having lost her hair (three times), her balance, her hearing, the use of the muscles on one side of her face, and eventually her speech and her mind. She should be here today, 70 years old, playing with her grandchild. But she’s not. Because of nicotine addiction.

No one told her she had an addiction. Her physicians told her to quit but never told her she was an addict. She herself would have been mortified at the term and would have rejected it.

But in my experience, the truth sets free.

Of course, this is just “anecdotal.” 🙂

*Addiction, 106:3, 678-679, March 2011.

Surgeon General’s New Report: No Safe Level of Smoking

Secondhand smokeSurgeon General Regina M. Benjamin released a report yesterday declaring there is absolutely no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke, whether from smoking or from secondhand smoke.

The 700-page report, “How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Diseases,” is the thirtieth surgeon general’s report on tobacco since the first landmark report linking smoking with lung cancer in 1964. This week’s report details the specific pathways by which tobacco smoke damages the body and lays out the scientific evidence for a number of conclusions I hadn’t heard before:

  • The toxins in tobacco smoke quickly damage blood vessels throughout the body and make blood more likely to clot, causing heart attacks, strokes and even sudden death
  • Tobacco’s toxins interfere with the functioning of the fallopian tubes—the little tubes that carry the woman’s egg from her ovary to her uterus—increasing the risk for poor pregnancy outcomes such as ectopic pregnancy (when the egg implants inside the fallopian tube), miscarriage and low birth-weight. Toxins also damage the DNA in sperm, which can reduce fertility or harm fetal development
  • Tobacco’s chemicals screw up the body’s blood-sugar regulation. Those with diabetes who smoke have a higher risk of heart and kidney disease, amputation, eye disease resulting in blindness, nerve damage and poor circulation

Obviously I haven’t had time to read the entire report! 🙂 so relying on the fact sheet from yesterday’s National Press Club event. But the sheet also said that adolescents’ bodies are “more sensitive to nicotine.” I wish they’d given details about this “sensitivity” that causes them to be “more easily addicted than adults.”

The fact sheet said about 1,000 teenagers become daily smokers each day. Hard to believe—that’s more than one-third of a million each year.

Friday Roundup: Scanning Smokers for Lung Cancer; How Smoking Wrecks the Body (In Pictures)

Finally, a national agency is coming out with study results that seem to suggest it might be good to screen smokers and former smokers for lung cancer.

The National Cancer Institute yesterday announced that conducting regular low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans to screen for lung cancer on heavy smokers and former smokers resulted in 20 percent fewer deaths from lung cancer than those who received conventional chest X-ray.

Bonus result: deaths from all causes (such as emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, etc.—but including lung cancer) were 7 percent lower than those who were X-rayed.

The study, called the National Lung Screening Trial, was designed to compare CT screening with chest X-ray (which has long been thought not to be an effective way to screen for lung cancer).

The data still have to be examined further and put through peer-review; some researchers are concerned about the negative effects of the CT scans themselves.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. by a long shot for both men and women. Many folks believe more women die of breast cancer. More women are diagnosed with breast cancer: while 255,000 women were estimated to have been diagnosed last year with breast cancer, 40,000 of those cases were fatal. With lung cancer, about 106,000 women are expected to be diagnosed this year, while 71,000 women will die. Lung cancer has one of the lowest cure-rates in cancer treatment because it’s difficult to diagnose early—which is the reason scientists have been looking for a good screening tool.

And yet lung cancer is the single most preventable form of cancer death. The addiction to nicotine has to be stopped. What that takes is asking for help.

(You know that little pink ribbon for breast cancer? My dream is to have one for addiction. Awareness helps people to get help.)

I’ve written about this before, about my old friend the longtime alcoholic and drug addict who saved quitting smoking for last. He had an active 12-step program in place, which has since morphed into a Buddhist recovery program. Within six weeks, his physician’s nurse had tapered him off his nicotine program and he was entirely drug-free.

In case anyone needs an extra bit of motivation, or is curious: Came across this interesting slide-show called “Surprising Ways Smoking Affects Your Looks and Life.” The split photos of twins are especially cool—they so clearly show the effects of the myriad chemicals in cigarettes on the skin, eyes, teeth, and hair. They also illustrate how dangerous smoking is for nonsmokers exposed to smoke.

Twin smokers

Which one do you think is the smoker?

Smoking wrinkles and darkens the skin.

Also found these statistics appealing: I’d always known there are at least 80 million smokers and former smokers in the U.S. They broke it down: 45 million Americans smoke, and 48 million have quit.

Finally: A maximum of only 7 percent could do it without help.

Get help. And check out the excellent resources from Bobby Venicchio’s Stop Smoking Now Aids.

Sayings From the Rooms: Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

They say,

Nothing changes
nothing changes

Another way of saying this is another thing they say:

If you do what you always did,
you’ll get what you always got

A lot of us wrestle with habits other than “drugs” or “alcohol.” We eat sugar. We shop online. We have sex. We smoke. We don’t think these are problems until we bump  into walls.

Lots of people don’t think smoking is drug-use. It’s been well established, ever since Jeffrey Wigand testified against Big Tobacco, that cigarettes are nicotine-delivery devices scientifically crafted to maximize the effects of nicotine on the neurological system. Nicotine is an addictive drug.

I was at a meeting the other night where a friend of mine was talking about how she gave up smoking. She’d quit drinking and gotten sober and had changed her life, she said, and saved her cigs for the times when she really needed to control her “stress.” … I’ve heard so many people with addiction talk about how kicking nicotine was harder than quitting heroin or booze. My friend said she’d never thought that her smoking was a problem until her kid piped up one day:

Oh, look, Mommy! There’s the cigarettes you smoke when you’re mad!

She gave up cigarettes after that.

SugarThis made me think about the times I eat sugar. I eat it when I’m upset. I eat it habitually. I eat it because I’ve always eaten it. I eat it because it’s what I do. … It makes me feel good for a while, it comforts me, then it makes me tired; it gives me headaches. It makes me sad: classic sugar-crash. I could give you a technical rundown on what happens with the insulin overload, but it would be boring.

I have to give up sugar.

It’s the last thing.

It would be cool not to be a slave to anything anymore.

It would also be cool to eat real food. Not to hunt through the cupboards for “fun” trash all the time. It would require me to plan meals, to balance my life so that I pay attention to what I eat.

Mindfulness practice—meditation—brought me here… I’ll write about that next time.

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