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Thursday, November 17, 2011

What Non-Smokers Will Never Understand - Overcoming Nicotine Addiction

Frank T. Leone, MD, MS, associate professor of medicine, is director of the Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program at Penn Medicine. You can listen to Dr. Leone talk more about smoking-related health complications and how those who smoke find it hard to quit – even with the growing trend against smoking in public locations.

Join Dr. Leone in an online chat about quitting smoking on at 2 pm today, November 17.

Nicotine addiction is complex. People who are addicted to nicotine know it’s bad for them, yet they can’t stop. And those who aren’t addicted to nicotine can’t understand why they just can’t quit. Even family members and friends have a hard time understanding nicotine addiction.

My patients are people who smoke, but know they should stop. They often try to tell me how it feels. They describe feeling sad, angry, and hopeless. They tell me it’s frustrating and confusing; embarrassing and shameful. They feel trapped between desperately wanting to stop and desperately wanting NOT to stop.

Their lives are literally on the line, and they have no idea how to get “un-stuck” from this trap. They are facing cancer and are afraid.

Nicotine addiction is simultaneously one of the most common, powerful, and deadly addictions in our society. It is also one of the least understood. Nicotine works in that place in the brain where survival instincts are born. Nicotine addiction takes those normal instincts and “hijacks” them so that they get turned inside out: The more a person wants to change, the more their instincts tell them that change is bad. The net effect is that people spend a lifetime telling themselves “I want to quit… soon.” But sometimes soon doesn’t come soon enough.

Penn Medicine’s Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program works hard to help smokers and their families understand why they feel trapped and powerless to change. The team tries to understand the specific needs of every smoker, whether it relates to health, family, work, or other aspects of their lives.

The program is based on the belief that smokers deserve to quit comfortably, so the treatment tends to be aggressive with medications in a way that helps keep that “devil inside” quiet. Most of all, the team respects the problem for what it is. And they respect the people struggling to find a way out from under it.

Specialists in Penn’s Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program have been fortunate to help thousands of patients overcome nicotine addiction over the years, and it’s amazingly rewarding. Patients keep in touch with the program throughout the years. Our staff answers their questions, provides them with support during difficult times, and helps them to get right back on track if they relapse.

It’s not about success or failure. It’s not about blame or disappointment. It’s about long-term control over the compulsion to smoke.

Here are a few helpful tips that may make it easier for a person to overcome nicotine addiction. Whether you smoke, or care about someone who smokes, try having an honest discussion about the following:

  • How smoking affects your life. Of course you like smoking. Why wouldn’t you? But of course you don’t like what smoking does to you. Try to understand how your nicotine addiction has been keeping you from taking control and making progress.
  • Start working on solution-based thinking. For now, ignore all the reasons you want to quit smoking and focus instead on all the reasons you’d like to keep smoking. Don’t be surprised if these reasons are hard to put into words. Now, start figuring out what you need to do to start overcoming some of these obstacles. Review all the things that have helped in the past. Was it a medication? Someone in your family? Make a list of things you want to learn more about from your doctor. Find a source of support, like a friend or a colleague who won’t judge you, but who will focus instead on finding solutions.
  • Ask for help from a professional. There are lots of resources, like Penn’s Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program, to help people who smoke overcome nicotine addiction. Community quit classes, research-based quit programs that look into novel approaches, telephone quit lines, even Internet resources. Find a program that fits your style and use it to its fullest potential.
Call the Penn Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program for help with your nicotine addiction, even if you don’t feel ready to quit. The staff is happy to answer your questions and discuss your options. No hassle. No pressure. Just help. 800-789-PENN (7366).

Post a comment below. Tell your personal story around tobacco. How did it affect your life? How did it affect those you love? How can the community do a better job dealing with this problem?

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