EVI SHAW: Don't give up on quitting smoking
- By Evi Shaw
- Posted December 28, 2009 at 8:07 p.m. , updated December 28, 2009 at 8:13 p.m.
SAN ANGELO, Texas — The New Year is here and some people like to make New Year’s resolutions such as quitting smoking. This motivates me to share thoughts and observations about smoking cessation.
Over the years, I have helped many people to quit smoking using hypnotherapy as a valuable tool. By the same token, there are people who would not quit, no matter what, the incorrigibles or people who think they are so powerless. After all, many medical professionals and the Surgeon General have blasted away that nicotine addiction is harder to overcome than heroin or cocaine. This probably reinforces what some people want to hear: “I would quit, but it is too hard.”
I will quote observations from medical people and then will share my personal observations with you.
I have observed that the majority of mental patients at Shannon Behavioral Psychiatric Hospital and Rivercrest Hospital are highly focused on their smoke breaks. It appears that roughly 80 percent of patients smoke, which is far in excess of the general population.
Dr. Glen McFerren of Shannon Behavioral stated that research has shown that smoking reduces the efficacy of psychiatric medications, which can cut down on side effects, making the patient feel more comfortable. Unfortunately, in turn this reduces what the medication is supposed to achieve in the first place. He said he thinks that many mental patients do not have much of a social life and do not have a whole lot to do. Smoking gets them together with others at the hospital sharing something in common. At home, it gives them something to do.
There also is a strong correlation between alcohol consumption and smoking. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, while nicotine is a stimulant, balancing each other out somewhat.
Dr. Raul Rodriguez, formerly of Rivercrest Hospital, a psychiatrist and addictionologist, shared that nicotine addiction is a function of how many years spent smoking and the mental attitude of the person. When asked whether smokers wanting to quit had to be admitted for detox, he denied the need, because nicotine addiction was not as severe, but he likes the patch, an antidepressant or gum to help with the process of smoking cessation.
My esteemed colleague of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, Dabney Ewin, MD, FACS, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Surgery at Tulane Medical School and Louisiana State University Medical School, shared his viewpoints with me: ”The word addiction has lost its meaning in the scientific community and it no longer refers to a bodily need for a particular chemical because it indiscriminately describes strong emotional desires such as addicted to chocolate, sports, computers, foreign oil. People who think of themselves as addicts have adopted a fixed idea that they are helpless to overcome the problem. Another of their fixed ideas is that smoking has social value as in being cool. Removing this fixed idea causes anxiety, because people believe they are violating this fixed idea.
An interesting study of 12,000 smokers by Tindle et al (2006) noted that people who smoke low nicotine cigarettes are more than 50 percent less likely to quit smoking than those who smoke regular cigarettes. That finding is incompatible with chemical addiction.
Ewin states, though, that next to adrenaline, nicotine is the strongest known stimulant drug, which leads me to my own personal observation as a mental health clinician. My patients tell me that smoking relaxes them. Not so!
What does relax them is the act of taking time out, e.g. leaving the work setting temporarily for a smoke outside and socializing with fellow employees, sitting in the backyard watching the deer go by, enjoying a comfortable chair and watch TV. This is relaxing. Unfortunately, these relaxing acts are paired with a cigarette and the cigarette gets the credit for relaxation.
I believe smoking is a strong psychological habit because people do it under mostly the same circumstances such as during their morning rituals, their morning cup of coffee, reading the paper, getting in the car, coming home from work to “relax” when having to make an unpleasant phone call and other scenarios, where a “friend” is needed.
Often people do not even realize they are smoking. They light up on autopilot, often leaving the cigarette to burn itself out. Smokers can spend hours on an airplane without chemical dependency consequences. They may be cranky because they do not like to be told what they can or cannot do.
Change is difficult because smokers are afraid to quit, afraid that they may be miserable, hard to live with. Alcoholics increase dosage for the same effect, while smokers can cut down.
If nicotine were to be so addictive, one would conclude that the patch, prescription medication and gum would work to help people quit smoking. Many people came to see me because the above did not work for them and they confessed that they still smoked while on the patch leading to dangerous nicotine overload.
I am sure it can help some people to quit, but my opinion is that people swallow something, stick on something or chew something, sit back and wait for something to happen in a passive manner.
I believe, and my past experience has shown, that this habit needs to be treated cognitively (the way people think about smoking), behaviorally (what people do) and emotionally (how people cope with their feelings of stress, anxiety, etc.)
Even so called incorrigible smokers with a three-pack-per-day habit have successfully quit with psychotherapy and hypnotherapy. People I have seen years ago, call and tell me so.
Not everyone quit successfully and they are not going to do that. Case in point: The patient who had his voice box removed or the lung cancer patient, still smoking.
A newspaper editor shared with me that he quit through the power of prayer and a loving wife who refused to tolerate his smoking. Both were powerful influences on him, but he still thinks about it quite a bit. His theory is that some people can quit easily, while some seem to be predisposed to not being able to do so. Evidently, he loves his wife more than he does cigarettes.
Therefore, do not let anyone tell you that you cannot quit. If it takes medication to make it easier for you to succeed along with proper therapy, this is your rightful choice. You will save money, be healthier, live longer and feel so proud of yourselves.
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Evi Shaw is a licensed professional counselor in solo private practice, a diplomate of the American Psychotherapy Association and an approved consultant of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. Contact her at Evishaw@verizon.net.