Removing the addiction myth is a good first step

I just read two very different articles, one on the pitfalls of the addiction myth from a smoker’s perspective and the other about prison libraries as a valuable resource. What they share is a perspective on how healthy options can proceed best from non stigmatized arenas.

In the first, from Underdogs Bite Upwards:

If the NHS really wanted to help people stop, they would play down the addiction story. They would tell you that stopping is just a matter of not doing it any more. Instead they hype it up until you believe you will pass through the very fires of Hell after stubbing out your last one. That approach almost guarantees the smoker will fail. Those feelings of nervousness and twitchiness and irritability are not caused by lack of nicotine. They are your mind’s response to being convinced that you are about to suffer terribly from something you can’t quite identify. The whole smoking-cessation industry is designed to fail. It is designed to keep its staff employed and to do that it needs smokers to keep smoking.


I’ve read Allen Carr’s ‘Easyway’ book….you’ll find in there a passage where he tried to start smoking again to see if his method would work on a relapsed smoker. He couldn’t start again. He didn’t enjoy it.

Well, we’re not supposed to be enjoying it. We’re supposed to be slavishly addicted to it. One cigarette causes addiction, isn’t that the mantra? So how come Carr couldn’t restart on the grounds of not enjoying it?

Carr’s success rate was down to his method being voluntary. People went to him because they wanted to stop. The NHS success rate is paltry because they push people into stopping. They are forcing people to stop doing something they don’t want to stop doing.

The belief in being addicted not only locks the user into continuing even if they no longer feel like it but probably makes it less likely for them to consider safer nicotine alternatives. Underdogs stresses the point that keeping the addiction perspective strong bolsters the pharmaceutical industry, and while I agree with that, I think just as much that, unless you can free yourself of that belief like Carr did, it is just as likely to keep you smoking, and keep you coming back to smoking.

If after weighing the pros and cons of the behavior, you can smoke or not, based more on whether you enjoy it or not and not because you think you have little choice in the matter, you are free to make the better decision. You will also be more open to those safer alternatives rather than painting nicotine use as a prison you need to escape from.

Which brings us to the article on prison libraries. In general, the point is that prisoners use the library for many purposes other than sourcing educational materials; some watch movies or read glossy magazines, and some use it as a place to leave letters for other inmates. But many coming to the library for other reasons end up being exposed to and then attracted to the more traditional uses of the library. They come to see it as a nonjudgmental space in which they can begin to move beyond their circumstances.

Libraries, like the idea of a world beyond addiction, are new ideas to many people, many of whom are best situated to profit from those ideas. Both libraries and stigma free nicotine use open up the arena for people to take charge of their own behavior, to determine their own best futures, and to break free of the stultifying patterns that have kept them enchained.

– Paul L. Bergen

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  • Laurence  On December 28, 2010 at 1:07 am

    When you say “If after weighing the pros and cons of the behavior, you can smoke or not, based more on whether you enjoy it or not …”
    You have missed an important point – people dont smoke because they choose to, or because they enjoy it, they just don’t know how to stop or are convinced they will be miserable without it and are too frightened to try.
    Because people are miserable when they can’t smoke and they get temporary relief from that misery when they smoke, they mistake that relief for the “pleasure” of smoking. This illusion is reinforced by a lifetime of brainwashing (including articles like this) that suggest therre is a pleasure and a choice in smoking. But pleasure and relief from aggravation are not the same thing. Once a smoker understands they subtle illusion and accepts that there are no genuine benefits to give up they will find, as Allen Carr and millions of other have, freedom from the addiction.

  • Paul  On December 28, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks for the comment Laurence. I think that you might be right that there are smokers like that but it cannot account for many others. It does not explain social smoking; people who smoke just on weekends or two a day or a little in the summer. I know people like that (in fact I am an infrequent cigar smoker myself (sometimes none for months and then I have one…out of the knowledge that I will enjoy it and not to cut a fourth month withdrawal pain). Me, and these others, are not miserable when they cannot smoke. The people I know who are daily smokers also are not miserable when they are not smoking (at some of the times they would rather smoke but that is not the same as being miserable, and at most other times, they are distracted by other things in their life). Accepting that people smoke (or use other drugs) for pleasure is necessary to devise the best means to get them to quit or to find safer alternatives.

  • Elaine Keller  On January 1, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    I’m sure that Laurence is accurately describing his own experience. But the fact of the matter is that just as all drinkers (or diabetics, or obese people) are not alike, it is a mistake to believe that all smokers are alike.

    I, too, take umbrage at the use of the word “addiction” because it assumes that the only reason for smoking is to “get high.” Yet, why are there no laws against “Driving while under the influcence of nicotine”?

    Well, for one thing, nicotine is not intoxicating. It does not impair the skills required to safely operate an automobile or machinery. It relaxes the skeletal muscles which has a calming effect when the user is tense and upset, but does so without impairing judgement, mood, memory, alertness, and response time. In fact, these skills are enhanced by nicotine. If all these skills are intact, the smoker will probably react to quitting the same way as Laurence–a couple of days of unease, followed by full recovery. However, if the smoker has underlying conditions that nicotine has been keeping in check, such as depression, anxiety, early Alzheimer’s, or Attention Deficit Disorder, then taking away the nicotine results in disabilities that are not corrected until nicotine is resumed. Yes, some of these conditions can be treated by (other) medications, but many of those medications have quite dangerous side effects. Is it really fair to label self-medication as “addiction”?

    I have done some surveys of smokers like me who become very ill when they become abstinent from nicotine. Most say that, like me, they do not experience the nicotine “buzz” talked about by other types of smokers. When my husband had severe back pain from a pinched nerve, the Oxycontin he took relieved the pain enough to allow him to concentrate and function. He never felt any “buzz” from taking it.

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