Nicotine, the Most Common Natural Recovery

Have you ever known someone who has quit smoking without the benefit of formal programs, self-help groups, or nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) (patches, pills, gum, etc.)? According to the American Heart Association, nicotine is one of the most addictive of all substances, weaving itself into virtually every facet of a smoker’s life. From an article by The National Institute on Drug Abuse:

“Research has shown how nicotine acts on the brain to produce a number of effects. Of primary importance to its addictive nature are findings that nicotine activates reward pathways — the brain circuitry that regulates feelings of pleasure…nicotine increases levels of dopamine in the reward circuits. This reaction is similar to that seen with other drugs of abuse… For many tobacco users, long-term brain changes induced by continued nicotine exposure result in addiction.” [i]

So, nicotine works the same way, and to the same extent as other drugs of abuse. We will look further into the addiction mechanism in the next chapter, but I’m sure that anyone who has ever tried to quit smoking understands how addictive it can be.

In 1986, the American Cancer Society reported that: “Over 90% of the estimated 37 million people who have stopped smoking in this country since the Surgeon General’s first report linking smoking to cancer have done so unaided.” [ii]

An article in the August 2007 edition of the American Journal of Public Health indicated that over 75% of those who successfully quit for 7 to 24 months did so without any help, as opposed to 12.5% who used NRT (patch or gum).[iii]  A study in the February 2008 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine indicated that almost 65% of quitters used no help, while around 30% used medication, and 9% used behavioral treatment.[iv]

The following appeared in PLoS Medicine, an open access, peer-reviewed medical journal in February of 2010:

“As with problem drinking, gambling, and narcotics use, population studies show consistently that a large majority of smokers who permanently stop smoking do so without any form of assistance…[T]he most common method used by most people who have successfully stopped smoking remains unassisted cessation…Up to three-quarters of ex-smokers have quit without assistance (’cold turkey’ or cut down then quit) and unaided cessation is by far the most common method used by most successful ex-smokers.” [v]

The evidence reveals that unassisted quit attempts have a much greater chance of success than those using the help of NRT’s, hypnosis, or any other method. In spite of that, the pharmaceutical industry continues to fund advertising campaigns aimed at convincing the general public, and physicians, that quitting “cold turkey,” without help, is a waste of time, and doomed to failure.

Because most assisted cessation attempts end in relapse, such “failure” risks could be interpreted by smokers as ‘I tried and failed using a method that my doctor said had the best success rate. Trying to quit unaided — which I never hear recommended — would be a waste of time.’ One review stated: “Such reasoning might well disempower smokers and inhibit quit attempts through anticipatory, self-defeating fatalism.” [vi] In other words, if the pills and patches don’t work for them, they will probably just give up.

The evidence clearly shows that empowering people with the belief they can quit smoking on their own is much more effective than feeding them the nonsense that they’re powerless.

[ii] Chapman S, MacKenzie R (2010) The Global Research Neglect of Unassisted Smoking Cessation: Causes and Consequences. PLoS Med 7(2): e1000216. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000216

[v] Chapman S, MacKenzie R (2010) The Global Research Neglect of Unassisted Smoking Cessation: Causes and Consequences. PLoS Med 7(2): e1000216. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000216

[vi] Gillies V, Willig C (1997) You get the nicotine and that in your blood: constructions of addiction and control in women’s accounts of cigarette smoking. J Community Appl Soc Psychol 7:285-301

About the Author Pete Soderman

Pete is an author, blogger, and podcaster who makes his home in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. His primary interest is in helping others recover from self-defeating behaviors.

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    Pete Soderman says January 9, 2012

    It’s not “https”


Darrel Visel says November 13, 2012

Nicotine is always the bad part of cigarette smoking aside from the cancerous compounds that you can find on the smoke itself.`

My own, personal website

CS says January 2, 2013

I’m glad I’ve found your site. I’m a near life-long sex addict. I’m 33 now and have been a sex addict for 20 years, as the Internet and the access to pornography that goes with it hit when I was a pubescent teen. I turned to pornography and masturbation as a numbing mechanism in the wake of my father’s suicide when I was 12. Later I would turn to alcohol and drugs, but by far the hardest to kick is the sex addiction. While sex it’s not a “substance” per se, the definition of addiction does not require administration of a substance through the digestive, respiratory, or cardiovascular systems. This is why I believe sex, food, gambling, video games, religion, exercise, hobbies, television, etc. can all act as addictions. They are designed to create psychological rewards and like any other substance or activity, the brain gets bored with the same level of reward over time. Sex and food are both biological necessities and light up the pleasure centers of our brains, which make both very rewarding and both very hard to quit. I made this exact argument about quitting smoking when talking to people after Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) meetings and was met with a lot of skepticism specifically due to my belief that a “spiritual awakening” is not what is causing people to quit. From what I’ve seen, the people that successfully recover using 12-step meetings are ones that practice total abstinence willfully rather than powerlessly. They may claim that God or a Higher Power inspired them, guides them, etc., but at the end of the day, they simply no longer indulge in their addiction of choice for whatever reason. They choose free-will or a will they feel their Higher Power allows them to attain. Over time, they ween themselves from the dependence and it becomes easier to abstain the farther removed they are from the addiction, but there will always be triggers, and always be the need to exercise free-will in the face of an impending destructive relapse. Praying may work for them, remembering the consequences, or numerous other tools, but at the end of the day, they simply stop the self-destruction. Before my wife left me, I had 4 months of complete sexual abstinence. That means no sex, masturbation, pornography, etc. Absolutely no sexual gratification. After she left, I was lucky to put together a week of abstinence. Was I abstinent because I was spiritually awakened and then dealt a spiritual death blow by my impending divorce? For me? Absolutely not. I had 4 months of sobriety because I had daily reminders of the damage my addiction did and was doing to my wife and my marriage and made the conscious effort to quit. I was guided by my conscience and the consequences outweighing the rewards of my addiction now that my secret was out. I could no longer hide behind the vale of secrecy and ignore the consequences of my actions. The immediacy of the consequences drove me to get help and stay sober. This would correlate to why a doctor’s warning is an effective trigger and catalyst for change. My personal feeling is that I do not like the label addict because it implies powerlessness instead of the ability to consciously override the poor coping mechanisms we have developed when dealing with the everyday stressors of life. We need not accept that we are powerless, but rather the opposite: that as humans, we exhibit the power of free-will. 12-step programs call this self-will a defect of character, but I personally feel that this defect is also an asset that can be applied in the opposite direction to maintain a life of sobriety. Those that recover, do so because they believe they can recover. What gives them that belief is unimportant. Like you’ve said, it will be different for everyone. Thanks again. — Chris S.

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