Tackling Nicotine, The Lingering Addiction
Mental health expert and addiction specialist Dr. Gregory L. Jantz sees patients battling all types of addictions at his Center for Counseling and Health near Seattle.
But even after people conquer some of their most debilitating problems – alcohol, gambling, drugs – a persistent habit tends to linger.
“When people have multiple addictions, smoking is usually the last to go,” says Jantz. “It’s as if they are saying, ‘Don’t take everything from me.’ Generally, given the opportunity, people do want to quit smoking. But they don’t believe they can or don’t know how.”
About 46 million Americans smoke, but most wish they didn’t, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A 2010 survey showed that 70 percent of smokers in the U.S. would like to quit, and in 2012 more than 40 percent actively tried to stop.
The National Institutes of Health points to numerous reasons to end the habit. Smokers who quit lower their risk of getting various cancers, including lung cancer, and also reduce their chances of suffering from heart disease, stroke, emphysema, and other serious diseases.
Figuring out a strategy for quitting involves recognizing the depths of the smoking addiction, Jantz says. A few points to understand include:
• Smoking meets emotional needs as well as physical needs.“It meets a huge need for comfort,” he says. “So smokers need to ask themselves, ‘How do I bring comfort into my life without smoking?’”
• Smoking is relational. Smokers get together with other people to smoke, which fuels the habit. “Once you become an ex-smoker, you are no longer part of that group,” Jantz says. “And that’s not fun. But if smokers can begin to see the possibility of themselves as healthier, vibrant persons, then they are more inclined to make the effort.”
• Going cold turkey doesn’t work for most people. Even all those health warnings on cigarette packages and images in the media portraying the devastating results of smoking don’t have the impact you might imagine, Jantz says. “This is so addictive and so powerful that people can see these pictures and continue to do it,” Jantz says. “That’s a powerful addiction.” The American Cancer Society reports that only about 4 to 7 percent of smokers are able to stop on their own without using smoke-cessation products, yet almost all of these products use nicotine reduction therapy (NRT), which require smokers to quit cold turkey. Most smokers who have tried NRT products fail to quit multiple times. There is one new product Jantz recently began using with some of his patients called NicoBloc (www.nicoblocusa.com), a more innovative approach helping smokers to quit the habit gradually, so going cold turkey isn’t necessary. NicoBloc has proven to be remarkably successful (over 60 percent quit rates) in stop smoking programs in Europe.