Why is the recidivism rate for the nicotine addiction so high? Why do people go back after having stopped for a while? Surely they are no longer going through the physiological withdrawal after a few weeks or months? Why would they give up their newfound freedom?
There are many reasons why people go back, but the main problem lies in their thinking. They still have the “junkie mind” that above all else is still seeking the relief they got from nicotine. It is more valued than going without. They don’t like missing their “fix”. Deep down they do not feel complete, that something is fundamentally wrong if they must live life without their “friend.”
They are unable to grasp how ingrained the need for relief has shaped and colored their thinking and behavior. They do not recognize how formidable is the power of nicotine and how it shapes their lives, even after they have quit. That is why products that promise to take away the discomfort of withdrawal have appeal but no lasting effect. And that is why most people gain weight after they have stopped because they do not see how they have transferred their need for nicotine onto food. Food has become for them their new drug that brings relief. Except it doesn’t. No amount of food can bring the underlying relief they really want. So, feeling disgusted and unsatisfied, they go back to smoking because, if they are going to be so miserable, they might as well go back to their “true friend”. “At least it keeps the weight off!” But does it? Most people end up fat smokers!
I know this from personal experience. I attempted to stop smoking eight times before I was finally able to stop for good. I would start out with great determination and willpower only to find that grasp whittle away as time went on. The lure of cigarettes was underneath every experience. I missed cigarettes, was often pining for my “old friend.” I was unable to recognize the benefits of the actual freedom I was experiencing. I was looking past it as I was only focused on getting relief, and nothing else could satisfy like my smokes.
So in order to truly stop smoking once and for all, the nicotine addict must recognize that the problem is not the physiological craving, but the psychological dependency, the way we see see nicotine as the rescuer from our own discomfort. This is actually not as complicated as it sounds.
In simple terms, smokers need to come to terms with their need for nicotine. The problem is not that they want to smoke or vape. The real problem is that they don’t want to want to smoke. They resist their desires, thinking they need to hide their desires from themselves for fear they will do it. And they haven’t been taught how to reframe their desires to smoke as being part of the solution, not the problem. After all, smokers who are stopping want to smoke! That is what getting off nicotine is all about. If they are experiencing their desires for nicotine, it means it is working, it means they are getting free. So what is there to work on? It is not about finding ways to get rid of their desires but instead, to work on their own ability to welcome the experience and recognize the value of temporary discomfort for the permanent benefits. The way to heal the longing for nicotine is to befriend that longing, to see the longing as something to be valued. After all, it’s the path to freedom!