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GUS (Gave Up Smoking) is a community support diary for Kossacks in the midst of quitting smoking. Any supportive comments, suggestions or positive distractions are appreciated. If you are quitting or thinking of quitting, please -- join us! We kindly ask that politics be set aside.  

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"Habit converts luxurious enjoyments into dull and daily necessities" - Aldous Huxley

While a lot of people refer to smoking as a habit, I usually make a point of referring to it as an addiction. Not "my old smoking habit" but "my former nicotine addiction." There's a deliberate reason for my choice of words, just as there's a reason (deliberate or otherwise) for many people choosing to call it a habit: it's all a matter of degree.

See, when I was a smoker, I always called it a habit. By making it nothing more than a habit in my mind, that sort of put it on par with other habitual behaviors. You know: biting your nails, never missing an episode of your favorite TV show, following the same path around the supermarket each time you shop, overusing a certain pet word or phrase, smoking 25-40 cigarettes a day...

...whoa there, back up a sec. Which one of those things is not like the others? Yeah, that's what I thought.

The one that can eventually kill you.

By lumping my addiction in with those other, comparatively harmless habitual behaviors, I was able to downplay -- at least in my own mind -- the severity of what I was doing to myself, and what I was up against.

But an addiction isn't just a habit. Not exactly, anyway, or at least not only a habit. While there's an habitual element to most addictions -- a ritualized set of behaviors, a routine component like location or timing -- there's a little more to it than that. Addictions go the extra mile: they introduce a level of unpleasantness that gets progressively worse the longer we are deprived of whatever it is we're addicted to. Addictions shape our days to a degree that mere habits do not. There may be physiological as well as psychological changes that go beyond the mild anxiety or fidgety annoyance we experience when our habits are denied us; it's less a matter of being inconvenienced or irritated and more one of experiencing fairly serious altered physical and emotional states.

 title=To put it another way, I might've been kind of ticked off that my usual route to work was blocked or frustrated when my favorite "appointment TV" show was preempted, but that was nothing -- NOTHING -- compared to the feeling I got when I ran out of cigarettes or was stuck somewhere I couldn't smoke.

After a few half-assed, futile attempts to quit my "habit," I recognized it for what it was: an addiction to nicotine. And strangely enough, that may have been what it took to start wrapping my brain around what I might need to do to quit. Because as much as we minimize and downplay addictions as mere habits, we also set ourselves up for failure by framing it that way. After all, it's much easier (not easy, mind you, but easier) to break a habit than it is to overcome addiction.

 title=When we try to break a "habit" that's really an addiction, we may become frustrated, or introduce a moral component into what is essentially a disease process. You wouldn't assume that willpower was the primary component in successfully beating depression, for example (the result of another disease process that involves a change in your brain chemistry), but we often make the mistake of assuming that it's the only thing standing between being a smoker and being a non-smoker. As Ira Gershwin once put it, " ain't necessarily so."

When I quit smoking, I didn't break a habit. Breaking a habit is what I did when I stopped checking my email so often or weaned myself off off of drinking diet soda all day long. What I did when I quit smoking was overcome an addiction to nicotine. Yes, it took willpower, but it also took an understanding of the weird physical and emotional symptoms that resulted when I stopped introducing nicotine into my system. It took a willingness to ride out the awful, counterproductive cravings and impulses. It took time. And, like most addictions, it's a work in progress.

All of this is not meant to downplay the seriousness of those so-called "soft" addictions, those with fewer overt physical symptoms but with as much real-world impact. People with habitual behaviors that begin to take over or interfere with a person's day-to-day life can be extremely serious and may require intervention by a third party, a support group, or even trained professionals (including therapy and medication). If your gambling, gaming, internet time or shopping feels out of control, it probably is, at least to some degree. If your "habit" is actually a compulsive behavior of a different sort (disordered eating habits, unhealthy relationships, hoarding, cutting, etc.), please seek professional help! GUS is a heck of a support group and we do have a certain collective wisdom here, but treatment of these serious issues is best left to the professionals!

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(Thanks bsm for catching the updates!)

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Originally posted to Vacationland on Mon Aug 23, 2010 at 01:58 PM PDT.

Also republished by gussians.


Habit? Addiction? Maybe a bit of both...

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