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The Give and Take of Nicotine

Nicotine gives relief. And to an addict that is everything: Aaaahhhh - that feeling when voraciously dragging deep the first puff or hit, feeling the relief thrill through one’s veins, up to the head where there is a pulsing, if not knocking sensation, and a feeling of calm covers the entire body! Yeesss! I remember it well.

What is pleasure to an addict is the feeling of relief nicotine brings from going without it. Addicts don’t desire to smoke so much as they have to smoke. They have to or else. Or else, what? Or else they begin to feel the consequences of nicotine leaving the body. When the nicotine level lowers, that is when the addict is signaled that his /her body needs more nicotine to feel comfortable. That level of nicotine-need increases over time. It is called “tolerance”. I smoked 2 and a half packs a day. That meant my tolerance level was at 2 and a half packs a day. That is how much nicotine I needed to feel comfortable on a daily basis. I told myself that I liked to smoke. But the fact is I liked not “Jonesing” for a cigarette.

So that is what nicotine gives. Let’s explore now what it takes. Here is where I could share about the dangers of smoking and elucidate on all of the physical consequences that occur over time. But the reader already knows that smoking and nicotine are harmful, (although the younger generation is duped into believing that vaping is somehow “more healthy” than cigarettes. There is no such thing as a “healthy” dose of nicotine, which is poison and used as an insecticide in places.) But for now, I want to set aside the physical consequences and focus on what it takes from the addict’s psyche.

As addicts smoke from day to day, week-to-week, year-to-year, decade-by-decade, they develop and maintain a dependency on nicotine that lasts longer than most of their relationships. Cigarettes or e-cigarettes are with them through thick and thin. They endow them with meaning. They view cigarettes or e-cigarettes as being my “buddy”, my “friend”, my “coping mechanism”, they help them get through. Cigarettes and vapes become everything they truly are not. But addicts are unable to see that. Nicotine comes before everything: work, pleasure, relationships, health, even life itself. Addicts’ lives revolve around making sure they have an ample supply, never running out, never disturbing the equilibrium caused by maintaining the necessary level of nicotine.

That is what the dependency on nicotine takes. With every hit, with each puff, nicotine chips away at the person’s ability to get on with life on life’s terms - without nicotine coming first. The need for it only increases over time. It never goes away by itself, not after all the years of having developed the dependency. And the addict’s thoughts grow ugly when presented with needing to stop, usually as the result of a health crisis. It is almost as if the cigarettes are talking: “You can’t do this! What do you think you are doing! You can’t get on without me! Don’ t you even try, you will be so miserable. You don’t really want to stop. You can stop when you have time, but not now. Now is not a good time. It’s not that bad. You don’t have what it takes. You are too weak! You can’t make it!” And even worse, addicts believe it! Addicts know they need help, that they can’t do it themselves, and are clueless about what really works, what and whom to trust. They just wish the problem would go away. They can’t help but look for magic because they need a miracle!

So what nicotine takes from people who have become addicts is hope: hope that they can ever be successful without it, hope that life can ever be as full as it appears to be with nicotine, hope in their own ability to say no to it, hope that life will ever feel free and whole without it. It is a desperate, desolate place where nicotine renders addicts. Some call that the “gift of desperation”. Why such a harsh characterization? Because that is when addicts seek help. That is truly a gift because that is when and where hope can be restored. I hope all addicts find the help and hope they need.

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