Nicotine is the tobacco plant's natural protection from being eaten by insects. Drop for drop it's more lethal than strychnine and three times deadlier than arsenic. Yet, amazingly, by chance, this natural insecticide's chemical structure is so similar to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine that once inside the brain it fits a host of chemical locks permitting it direct and indirect control over the flow of more than 200 neurochemicals.
Within eight seconds of that first-ever inhaled puff, through dizzy, coughing and six shades of green, nicotine arrived at the brain's reward pathways where it generated an unearned flood of dopamine, resulting in an immediate yet possibly unrecognized "aaahhh" reward sensation. Sensing it would cause most first-time inhalers to soon return to steal more. Nicotine also fit the adrenaline locks releasing a host of fight or flight neurochemicals and select serotonin locks impacting mood.
Brain Defenses Create Dependency
A toxic poison, the brain's defenses fought back but in doing so they had no choice but to also turn down the mind’s sensitivity to acetylcholine, the body's conductor of an entire orchestra of neurochemicals.
In some neuro-circuits the brain diminished the number of receptors available to receive nicotine, in others it diminished the number of available transporters and in still other regions it grew millions and millions of extra acetylcholine receptors (up-regulation), almost as if trying to protect itself by more widely disbursing the arriving pesticide.
There was only one problem. All the physical changes engineered a new tailored neurochemical sense of normal built entirely upon the presence of nicotine. Now, any attempt to stop using it would come with a risk of intermittent temporary hurtful anxieties and powerful mood shifts. A true chemical addiction was born. Returning home to the “real you” now had a price. Gradually the calmness and comfort associated with being the “real you” faded into distant or even forgotten memory.
The brain's protective adjustments insured that any attempt to stop would leave you temporarily desensitized. Your dopamine reward system would briefly offer-up few rewards, your nervous system would see altering the status quo as danger and sound an emotional anxiety alarm throughout your body, and mood circuitry might briefly find it difficult to climb beyond depression.
The Recovery Process
Successful nicotine dependency recovery is in maintaining the motivations, dreams and patience needed to allow: (1) the physical mind time to re-sensitize itself and re-adjust to functioning normally again; (2) the subconscious mind time to encounter and re-condition the bulk of its nicotine feeding cues that triggered brief anxiety episodes in an attempt to gain compliance; and (3) the conscious mind time to either allow years of defensive dependency rationalizations to fade into distant memory, or the intelligent quitter time to more rapidly destroy their impact through honest reflection.
The ex-smoker will find themselves enjoying a deep and rich sense of inner quiet, calmness, and tranquility once their temporary journey of re-adjustment is substantially complete.
The body's nicotine reserves decline by about half every two hours. It's not only the basic chemical half-life clock which determines mandatory nicotine feeding times, when quitting it's also the clock that determines how long it takes before the brain begins bathing in nicotine free blood-serum, the moment that real healing begins.
It can take up to 72 hours for the blood-serum to become nicotine-free and 90% of nicotine's metabolites to exit the body via your urine. It's then that the anxieties associated with readjustment normally peak in intensity and begin to gradually decline.
But just one powerful "hit" of nicotine and you’ll again face another 72 hours of detox anxieties. It's why the one puff survival rate is almost zero. None of us are stronger than nicotine but then we don’t need to be as it is simply a chemical with an I.Q. of zero. It does not plot, plan or conspire and is not some demon within us. Our most effective weapon against it is, and always has been, our vastly superior intelligence but only if put to work.
Nicotine Replacement Products
The key to nicotine dependency recovery is not in dragging out the 72 hours of detox by toying for weeks or months with gradual nicotine weaning or other creative means for delivering nicotine. The nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) industry want smokers to believe that a natural poison is medicine, that its use is therapy, and that it is somehow different from the tobacco plant's nicotine molecule. The truth is that the pharmaceutical industry buys its nicotiana from the exact same growers as the tobacco industry. They want you to believe that double-blind placebo controlled studies proved that NRT doubles a cold turkey quitters odds of quitting and that only superheros can quit without it. The truth is that their studies were not blind as claimed, and that all but a tiny sliver of earth's successful quitters are quitting entirely on their own. Here are a few facts that those selling creative nicotine delivery devices would rather you not know:
* Nicotine is a psychoactive drug whose "high" provides a dopamine "aaahhh" sensation and an adrenaline rush. Would you have been able to tell, within 5 minutes, whether the gum or lozenge you'd been given contained the nicotine equilivent of smoking two cigarettes or was instead a nicotine-free placebo? So could they. A 2004 study found that NRT studies suffered from massive wide-spread blinding failures (May 2004)
* A nicotine smoker's natural odds of quitting for six months, entirely on their own, without any products, procedures, education programs, counseling or formal support is roughly 10% (June 2000)
* Those using the over-the-counter (OTC) nicotine patch or gum as a stand-alone quitting tool have only a 7% chance of quitting smoking for six months (March 2003)
* Up to 7% of OTC nicotine gum quitters are still chronic users of nicotine gum at six months (May 2004). Question: isn't 7 minus 7 still zero? (May 2004)
* 36.6% of all current nicotine gum users are chronic long-term users (May 2004)
* You truly would have to be a superhero to quit while using the nicotine patch if you've already attempted using it once and relapsed. The only two patch user "recycling" studies ever conducted have both shown that nearly 100% of second-time nicotine patch users relapse to smoking nicotine within six months (April 1993 and August 1995, see Table 3)
* 91.2% of all successful long-term ex-smokers quit entirely on their own without resort to any product, procedure or program of any kind including hypnosis, Zyban, Wellbutrin, acupuncture, magic herbs, laser therapy, or the nicotine patch, gum, lozenge, spray, or inhaler (ACS 2003)
* Education, understanding, new skills and serious support can more than triple your natural six-month odds of 10% (April 2003)
* Those who refuse to allow any nicotine back into their bloodstream have 100% odds of remaining nicotine free today! (Today, Tomorrow & Always!)
Education Destroys Dependency Ignorance
Is encountering your subconsciously conditioned nicotine feeding cue (times, places, events, emotions) that are in need of reconditioning a bad thing? Are almost all cues reconditioned and broken by a single victory in not providing the demanded substance? Is time distortion a normal recovery symptom? Do all subconscious crave episodes last less than three minutes? Can distortion make the minutes feel like hours? Can looking at a clock bring honest perspective? Does the number of episodes peak at an average of six on day three and decline to just 1.2 crave episodes per day by day 10?
If "average," can you handle up to 18 minutes of serious anxiety (3 minutes x 6 episodes)? If you have established twice as many nicotine feeding cues as he average smoker can you handle up to 36 minutes of challenge on your most challenging day of recovery?
Does nicotine really double the rate at which caffeine is metabolized? Will your caffeine blood-serum level really increase by 203% if you drink the exact same amount of caffeine after ending all nicotine use? If you are a heavy caffeine user can elevated levels of caffeine cause additional anxieties making nicotine dependency recovery harder than need be?
Why could you skip breakfast and even lunch when smoking nicotine and never feel true hunger pains? Can difficulty concentrating during early recovery, and other low blood sugar type symptoms, often be easily corrected by simply learning that nicotine is no longer your spoon feeding you stored fats and sugars, and that you must again learn to properly fuel your body? How can temporarily (72 hours) drinking natural acidic fruit juices like cranberry help to both stabilize blood sugar and accelerate depletion of your body’s reserves of the alkaloid nicotine?
These are only a few of the hundreds and hundreds of nicotine dependency recovery issues explored in detail at WhyQuit.com, a free online motivation, education and peer support forum. If you are addicted to nicotine we invite you to sample the juice of understanding and the amazing world of online nicotine dependency recovery. I think you'll be surprised at how much there is to learn about the deadly insecticide that now commands your brain, controls your health and will likely determine your life-expectancy.
The next few minutes are all that matter and each is entirely doable. It may not always be easy but it is simple. There was always only one rule: no nicotine today!
John R. Polito
Nicotine Cessation Educator
November 20, 2003