Who said it is a craving?

I think one of the most common mistakes people make when they quit is associate everything they feel and do from the moment the finish their last cigarette as automatically something to do with withdrawals or cravings. If you think about it all the evidence suggests that nicotine will quickly leave the body and in truth be out within about 72 hours. So why is it that weeks and sometimes months (one post above even mentioned 10 years) after quitting when we feel under pressure and tense do we assume that it is a craving for a cigarette. I can tell try to explain.

Anxiety, misunderstanding and human response.

Have you ever made a list of the feelings you have when you wanted a cigarette. All the feelings, sensations, thoughts. I have and it was quite a list. Everything from fear and loathing to wanting to run away and hide. I felt a tension in my face and shoulders and a empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I thought I would explode if i didn't smoke and do anything to get rid of all these things.

But I realised something, the list above was the exact same list for anxiety, What I was describing was anxiety, however, I was associating this with cigarettes. So months after quitting when I felt anxious due to a genuine event or situation i would immediately think of smoking.

So how had this link been made.

There is a natural response to anxiety that is hard wired in every human being and that is the fight or flight response. It is a way of coping with dangerous situations and over many thousands of years has changed very little. The thing that has changed is the triggers. When we were cavemen the trigger will have been sabre tooth tigers or other tribes threatning them. This instinct would have allwoed them to prepare to stand and fight off the threat or prepare the body to run away. Without this automatic survival aid the Human race would have become extinct before it even got started.

Now we do not have wild animals roaming roaming the street anymore but we do have things that we could percieve as a threat. Driving on the busy roads, walking in the streets at night, keeping your job, trying to stay free from illness. Like I say the events have changed but our reaction and response to them haven't

So what happens when this fight or flight response is triggered.

Firstly hormones are pumped into the blood system. One of these is adrenalin and another more potent hormone is cortisol. This is produced by the adrenal gland which is sittuated just above the kidney. The cortisol is a kind of on switch for anxiety and stress. It courses through the body preparing muscle by creating more vitamins and minerals needed to put the bosy of full alert. It sends signals to the brain to ignore all other thoughts except those that will save them and keep them out of danger.

Now this process is actually vital if you are to function at your full potential but if the cortisol is pumped into the body over a prolonged period it can have devastating effects on it.

To switch this whole process off you just have to prove to yourself that the danger or perceived threat has been dealt with or has gone. When this happens another hormone is released by the adrenal gland (same organ as the cortisol) This hormone is called DHEA. It acts as the off switch or the all clear indicator. It quickly allows all the bodies respitory and chemical balance to return to resting levels.

So what does smoking and quitting have to do with this?

What I have described above is a reaction to actual danger or a threat, It is probably due to something you can see or feel. In those cases you can deal with it or move away from it. But what if the danger or threat was not real, what if it was a chemically induced feeling. Just as you can make someone feel happy with antidepressants so you can create a chemical mix that will give you anxiety. But how can you deal with something you can neither see or touch. It is triggered in the smoker mind.

When you tried your first cigarette you will no doubt have been feeling apprehensive and anxious about what was going to happen, in fact you will probably have felt every feeling under the sun in a very short space of time. So you smoke it and guess what. nothing, it was not the fantastic exillerating experience you were expecting. In fact for me it was a real let down. What I did not realise was that even though I had finished smoking the cigarette I had set of a chanin reaction in my body that would stay with me all my smoking life.

The carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide which are essentially nerve gasses were acting on my central nerveous system. It wil have been creating a feeling of fear and threat. I will not have known this or associated it with the previous cigarette because this would have been about 30 - 60 minutes later. Now this is where the misunderstanding came in. When this artificial anxiety reached it peak I should have just let it come out of my system on its own.

If i had just waited a few hours I would have returned to normal without any of the chemicals in my body and would have had a perfect memory for what a cigarette actually is designed to do. Make me feel anxious and threatened. Not relaxed and calm as we have all come to believe. Now the mistake I made when the artificial anxiety was at it's peak was to smoke another. To get the anxiety triggered there will have been a false alarm sent to my brain telling me I was under threat. That in turn will have pumped the cortisol into my blood and now for the ingenius part. Nicotine has been found to stimulate DHEA. Remember DHEA, the all clear message. The opposite hormone to cortisol. So by lighting another all I have done is to trick my brain once again only this time into thinking I had fould a way to get rid of anxiety. It was instant and the human instict for survival will not look any further than that.

The chain reaction had started. I never associated the negative feelings I now had every hour or so with the last cigarette, The real culprit. I blamed the feeling on something I had not even had yet. This misunderstanding was then reinforced everytime I lit a cigarette up.

Until that is I was made to face the truth. Actually see what I was doing. Questioning my feelings for probably the first time in my adult life. I was longer prepared to accept the "truth according to everyone else"

I wanted to find out why I smoked. Why I blamed everything and everybody else for me not being able to stop and above all stay stopped. In order to do that I had to relearn my reaction to anxiety and see it for what it was. A feeling that was what I made it. All feelings start out exactly the same, it is what you attach to them that makes the good or bad.

Author's Bio: 

Ian Clark has been helping people to quit smoking since the success of his own escape from Tobacco over five years ago. The main reason for his writings are to highlight the tricks and conspiracy behind the tobacco companies advertising and marketing strategies. And in some small way contribute to smoking being a thing of the past
Ian runs a Forum for people who require support at http://users.boardnation.com/~fullstopsmoking/index.php#1

And a website at

where you can also get copies of his new book - Santa Claus made me smoke - Ian Clark helped me quit http://www.lulu.com/content/118202