Thursday, August 28, 2008

Quitting When You're High

Active smokers underestimate rigors of withdrawal.

An alcoholic wraps his car around a tree in a drunken haze. He has "hit bottom" and vows never to drink again.

A meth tweaker gets so high he becomes unruly and disoriented and is arrested. In jail, cranked to the gills on speed, she pledges to go sober, starting right now.

A cigarette smoker stumbles to bed after a typical two-pack day, coughing, throat burning, reeking of tobacco, and swears that upon waking, his remaining cigarettes will go out with the trash and his life as a human ashtray is over.

Each of these addicts has started off on exactly the wrong foot, and will very likely fail quickly in their quitting attempts, according to recent research on smoking cessation from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. It is easy to say you're going to quit while you're high, sailing along on a comfortable level of nicotine in the bloodstream. Once that available nicotine is flushed out, you are going to have some serious second thoughts about the whole enterprise of abstinence. The smoker is likely to wake up the next morning, fumbling for a smokeable butt, muttering to himself: "What in the world was I thinking of last night? No way am I quitting today."

In a study to be published in the September issue of Psychological Science, researchers showed that cigarettes smokers who are not actively craving a cigarette when they vow to quit will likely not succeed, because they inevitably underestimate the rigors of the upcoming withdrawal, and the fierce intensity of their future desire to smoke.

According to lead investigator and professor of psychology Michael Sayette, "this lack of insight while not craving may lead them to make decisions--such as choosing to attend a party where there will be lots of smoking--that they may come to regret."

In the study, titled "Exploring the Cold-to-Hot Empathy Gap in Smokers," the researchers write: "In contrast to smokers in a hot (craving) state, those in a cold (noncraving) state underpredicted the value of smoking during a future session when they would be craving.... Failing to anticipate the motivational strength of cigarette craving, nonsmokers may not appreciate how easy it is to become addicted and how difficult it is to quit once addicted."

George Loewenstein, professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon and a co-author of the study, said that the research implications for non-smokers were crucial: "If smokers can't appreciate the intensity of their need to smoke when they aren't currently craving, what's the likelihood that people who have never smoked can do so?"

As further evidence of this psychological mismatch, the researchers cite earlier work performed by the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future longitudinal study of 1993, "which found that although only 15% of respondents who were occasional smokers (less than one cigarette per day) predicted that they might be smoking in 5 years, 43% of them were, in fact, smoking 5 years later."

All things considered, it's better to make the quitting decision when you're hurting, not when you're high.

Graphic Credit: Florida State University

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually, quitting smoking was easier than I thought it would be. Cigarettes are so expensive nowadays and I know they're only killing me slowly anyway, so I quit last year and it was amazingly easy, even for someone with such an addictive personality like myself. You just need to remind yourself that you quit, because a few mornings I woke up and started looking for my pack before realizing I'd quit.

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