Nicotine addiction is real. For a long time now, doctors and researchers have been telling us that smoking is addictive. Nicotine increases the levels of dopamine in your brain which gives the smoker a "pleasure sensation" every time they puff on a cigarette or pipe. The brain seems to produce even more receptors to accommodate more and more nicotine, trying to get more of that satisfying feeling. Scientists report that over 85% of all smokers have a nicotine addiction. Given the low success rates associated with stop smoking aids, it’s easy to see how one could come to the conclusion that nicotine is addictive. As addictive as illicit drugs like cocaine or opium.
The other part of habitual smoking is the behavioral side. We are creatures of habit and tend to connect certain activities together. We all know people who smoke only when they drink. Those two behaviors are said to be linked. Also, the smoking response in many smokers is triggered by environmental cues. Often times these are simple, like finishing a meal, driving to work, or some other basic, but repeatable cue that takes place throughout their day. This physiological and behavioral combination makes quitting smoking very challenging.
But, new research out of Tel Aviv is challenging the accepted presumptions that nicotine causes a physiological addiction. Dr. Dar's research examines this idea that smoking may be a simple case of mind over matter. His premise states that smoking's primary driver is behavioral, not physiological. He feels that environmental triggers are so strong they mimic the appearance of a physiological nicotine addiction. His study looked at craving intensity on regular smoking days, a voluntary day of abstinence and the required smoking cessation on the Sabbath. His results show that cravings on the Sabbath were less intense when the smoker knew they couldn't smoke (for religious reasons). The cravings on the day of abstinence were just as strong as the regular smoking days. This lead Dr. Dar to conclude that when the individual knew they couldn't smoke, they were not showing the addictive calling card, that of intense cravings, which were present on every other day; in essence, mind over matter.
There may be something to his conclusions. After treating thousands of patients, I have personally seen that once a patient had made up their mind to quit smoking, it didn't matter what method they used, they simply stopped. And they stopped without any trouble. In fact, many of them were able to quit cold turkey. Their reason finally became important enough to them to stop smoking.
Skeptics will argue this mind over matter concept. Research is still warranted to determine just which side of the nicotine addiction represents the most influencing motivation to smoke. There is new research that points to a smoking gene which, when present, can predict how successful a person will be when trying to quit. However, genetic testing is very costly and still in its infancy.
If you're not serious about stopping, or you feel like you can quit just as easy as you started, then you are not going to get the result you‘re hoping for. It does take a series of mindful and consistent decisions to overcome whatever kind of nicotine addiction you may have. Each day, you have to resolve to quit smoking. Because whether it's environmental cues or a true physical nicotine addiction, you need to be prepared mentally for what you're trying to do.