Coping with Smoking Cravings in Addiction Recovery
Monday, October 27 2014 Kira Lesley
On a warm October day, I hurried to to class, maneuvering around groups of slower-moving students. I checked my phone - fifteen minutes before class started, enough time to pop into the mini mart and buy some iced tea or soda. Approaching the entrance, I smelled the faint scent of fresh cigarette smoke from a passerby. Then my eyes caught the posters featuring cigarette brands on the mini mart door. All of the sudden, pleasurable memories wafted over me. I could feel the cigarette between my fingers and taste the hot smoke. I was experiencing a smoking craving.
What is a Smoking Craving?
The dictionary definition says a craving is a powerful desire. For me, craving an addictive substance is a little different. I have a powerful desire, for example, to be able to support my family with the music I write and perform. But that desire is deep and unchanging. It is a life goal and a fundamental part of my personality and identity. The tobacco craving, on the other hand, is temporary, impulsive and extemporaneous from the rest of my existence.
We know that smoking is highly addictive. Mainstream science holds that cravings are a physiological phenomenon related to dopamine, the reward circuit of the brain and hormones. These powerful urges are also linked to memory and hunger. In fact, recent research suggests the same parts of the brain are active in food cravings and drug cravings.
Fighting Smoking Cravings in Addiction Recovery
Fortunately, acute cravings do not last long - usually a manner of minutes. Distraction is a crucial tool when fighting the urge to give in. I experience alcohol and nicotine cravings, although the nicotine cravings are stronger. This does not mean it was harder for me to quit smoking (it was not). But for some reason, the short-lived, visceral desire to smoke strikes me more often than the desire to drink. Although I can't explain the brain mechanisms behind this, to me, smoking felt more like an activity, whereas drinking was a way of life (and nearly death).
In addition, drinking for me was more about escaping and checking out than it was a source of pleasure. Smoking, on the other hand, had pleasurable effects. Perhaps that's why those pleasant memory-laced thoughts of cigarettes return, even though I know smoking is deadly.
How I Cope With Smoking Cravings
When a craving hits me, I like to address it. I take spiritual approach to recovery, but there is a secular corollary to the way I deal with cravings. When I start to think a cigarette or a beer sound good, I pray to have the craving removed and for that thought to be replaced with a positive thought. In early recovery, when my cravings were more severe, I practiced a lot of distraction too. In effect, I employ a combination of prayer, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and distraction. What works best for you when a craving hits? Please share your thoughts and experiences.