Smoking Cigarettes - It is Hard But Not Because of Nicotine
In part 1 of this article, we discussed real chemical addiction and how stopping cold-turkey can be life threatening. We also pointed out that although a smoker claims, "I'm dying for a cigarette," no one has actually died because they didn't get a smoke.
The reason it is important to understand that cigarette smoking is a psychological addiction rather than a physical one, is to facilitate effective protocols to remove cigarettes from a smoker's life. In this article, we are going to discuss examples that demonstrate that nicotine is not physically addictive but that cigarette smoking is psychologically addictive.
What is Nicotine
Talk about a substance that has gotten a bad reputation. Nicotine is presented as the ultimate evil and the culprit that makes quitting cigarettes difficult or for some, impossible. However, just what is nicotine?
According to medical researcher Dr. David G. Williams, nicotine is a chemical substance found in cigarette smoke that stimulates the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is needed to facilitate the transmission of nerve impulses.
There's one thing though, there is another chemical called nicotinic acid that is a close cousin of nicotine that also stimulates the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. What is this almost identical substance? It is called Vitamin B3!
Could smokers be getting Vitamin B3 from their cigarettes? If so, it's not a healthy way to do it but look at the symptoms of Vitamin B3 deficiency:
Impaired recent memory
These are many of the reasons that people give for smoking! It improves their memory, lifts their spirits, calms them down, etc. Since many people don't have good nutrition, perhaps one of the things that fuels the Psychological Smoking Mechanism is a B3 deficiency. After all, these are water soluble vitamins or chemicals, if you will. They are not stored in the body and must be replaced constantly.
The bottom line here is that people don't get addicted to vitamins! This is just another indicator that the thing that keeps people smoking is not an addiction to nicotine. Let's look at some of the other things associated with smoking that do not follow the physical addiction mechanism.
If Cigarettes were Addictive
In the previous article in this series, we discussed a case of accidental addiction to pain medicine. As you recall, when the patient discovered they weren't getting the same results from the standard dose of medicine, they increased the dose which did, for a time give them relief. It wasn't long before they had to increase the dose again, and again.
This is what happens with chemical addiction, the body views the chemical as throwing it out of balance (homeostasis) and it creates a counter force. It matches each increase with an increase in counter force.
If nicotine was a truly addictive chemical, the smoker would have to keep increasing intake to achieve the same effects that are claimed for cigarettes just as in our drug example. The consumption of cigarettes would increase over time. However, this doesn't happen.
Let me give you a real life example. My grandfather was a cigarette smoker. He smoked his entire life starting in his early childhood years. He smoked less than a pack of cigarettes per day. The amount smoked never varied. He had a set amount that he unconsciously metered and for over 70 years maintained this level. The fact that he smoked less than a pack per day was to his benefit and delayed the health issues associated with cigarette smoke. But you can't avoid it forever and he did eventually develop health problems that years of cigarette smoking produced.
A clear indicator that cigarettes are psychologically addictive and not physically addictive is that the smoker settles into a pattern and stays there for years. You have your half a pack a day person, your pack a day person, your 1.5 pack a day person, your 2 pack a day person and in extreme cases, the three pack a day person. This volume is established pretty early and stays that way. There may be daily fluctuations but they all average out. There is a mental meter that regulates the amount of cigarettes smoked! That's the Psychological Smoking Mechanism.
If cigarettes were physically addictive, the smoker would be adding more and more cigarettes to achieve whatever claimed benefit they provided. This doesn't happen. This is a clear indicator that that cigarette consumption is regulated by the Psychological Smoking Mechanism and not the chemicals in the cigarette.
If Nicotine was a Chemical Addiction
There is a whole category of smoking cessation treatment protocols that operate under the idea that providing nicotine will take the place of smoking. The thinking behind this category is that supplying nicotine through vehicles such as patches or gum will eliminate the desire to smoke because the hypothetical nicotine demand is being met. Then by reducing the nicotine over time, just like drug rehab, the compulsion to smoke will be eliminated. Sounds great doesn't it? If nicotine were the culprit, nicotine patches, gum and lozenges would be 100% successful. After all, they are giving the body the chemical that it theoretically craves which is the supposed mechanism behind the compulsion to smoke.
Nicotine patches are powerful products that give the body a steady supply of nicotine. Let's look at their effectiveness. Since the smoker is getting generous amounts of nicotine which they are supposedly craving, the patches should be incredibly effective. However, some research shows, (Davidson, M., Epstein, M., Burt, R., Schaefer, C., Whitworth, G. & McDonald, A. (1998)), that only 19% of people on patches had stopped smoking at six weeks and that it was reduced to 9.2% at six months. Looking at it another way, at 6 weeks, 81% of the people using nicotine patches were still smoking and at 6 months, about 91% were still smoking. Yes, 10% of those that had stopped were back at it again.
The results for the gum is about the same. Even though the gum was providing the smoker with plenty of nicotine, at 6 weeks, 84% of the people were still smoking and at 6 months, 92% were smoking.
These smokers were getting all the nicotine they supposedly needed. In reality, they were probably getting a great deal more nicotine than the cigarettes they smoked provided. Yet, most of them continued to smoke along WITH the patches or gum. If nicotine doesn't compel the smoker to smoke, what does? It's the Psychological Smoking Mechanism.
Another Indicator that It Isn't Nicotine
With a chemical addiction, more is better for the addict. With nicotine patches, the smoker is getting a great deal of nicotine. They should be satisfied right? Well as mentioned in the last section, only 9% actually stop smoking with the patch. However, putting all that nicotine in a smokers system with patches does have an effect on the smoker. According to the American Lung Association, side effects with the nicotine patch are:
Yes, nicotine does have an effect on the smokers body. However, with all the things that smoking does to the smoker, it doesn't produce these effects. This is another clue that nicotine is not the motivator to smoke.
Smokers Resume Smoking after Extended Periods
Another clue that nicotine is not the motivator to smoke is the tendency for ex-smokers to resume smoking after a long period of time. Obviously, after an extended period of time, all the nicotine would be out of their system. As has been stated, nicotine is the cousin of Vitamin B3, a water soluble vitamin. These substances are either rapidly used or excess flushed from the body daily. No matter how heavy a smoker, it won't take very long for all nicotine to be out of their system.
Also, from a strictly habit perspective, a few weeks or months without smoking should have put an end to the habit; the habit of reaching for a cigarette is broken. However, an ex-smoker can pick up a cigarette and resume smoking like they never stopped whether it is weeks, months or even years.
This is because the Psychological Smoking Mechanism is still operating. There is no nicotine in the system, the habit has been abandoned for weeks, months or some time years, yet, cigarette smoking can resume.
The effects of nicotine do not follow the chemical addiction mechanism. Nicotine is similar to Vitamin B3, a water soluble vitamin. It must be replenished daily. It is possible that the smoker has a deficiency of Vitamin B3. Each cigarette provides a small amount of nicotine which is similar to Vitamin B3.
A smoker falls into a pattern of cigarette consumption which doesn't vary over decades. Whether it is the half pack a day, one pack a day, one and a half pack per day or the extreme of three packs per day, this amount doesn't vary. Although there may be daily fluctuations, it averages out over time to whatever pattern the smoker follows.
Cigarette consumption is regulated by the Psychological Smoking Mechanism. The only way to remove cigarettes from your life is to remove this mechanism. If this mechanism is not removed, the person quitting cigarettes will continue to be a smoker who doesn't happen to be smoking right now. When the Psychological Smoking Mechanism is gone, so is smoking because the person has become a NONsmoker!
© Copyright 2009, R. Michael Stone