Thursday, 6 November 2008

Smoking addicts

People of reason please in the name of all that is sacred, stop the absurd comparing of fatness with smoking, stopping smoking with weight loss or 'lifestyle change'; which the nice person in me wants you to know, has been rumbled as a diet in disguise.

Smoking is not like eating in umm oh so many ways, number one; it satisfies absolutely no essential bodily need whatsoever.

Repeated claims are made by smokers as to what need it actually does satisfy, which seems to be just about whatever need the smoker has, calmer, soother, confidence booster stress reliever et al. It's most convincing service is as prop to the imagination. Which shows how important the human imagination is to us and how little we understand it. If we made better use of it, we wouldn't get into so many scrapes with chemicals that we've just got to ingest to achieve an effect that is perfectly within the grasp of our minds. Ho hum.

I know the fact of nicotine is supposed to be well-established, why else would anyone light a tuber of tobacco, suck it into their lungs, and blow it out like a dragon? But for the life of me, I've never been able to get a grip of why nicotine or any of the other numerous chemicals in a tab would cause you to be an 'addict'

It fulfils the criterion for addiction, which as you've probably noticed, isn't hard, as it's definition hasn't quite been definitively fixed. It's certainly bandied around with reckless abandon, one of the many things in life; that must cease now.

So what could possibly explain how seductive and hard to stop smoking is or can be for so many? Well one of things that we have to keep in mind about the body, is it is not just machinery of meat, as they say, one of it's many wonders that people can't get their heads around, is that the body produces and periodically releases pleasure chemicals in cycles.

The bit to note is this:
Endorphins are our body's natural opiates, produced when we experience stress.

The stress in question, is inhaling cigarette smoke. Keep doing it and the body learns to save the release of these pleasure chemicals for the inevitable, this is probably what makes you feel good about smoking and what you are addicted to and that is real as the body's opiates are apparently more powerful than heroin.

As I understand it, what happens when you are addicted to opiates, say heroin or cocaine, this can cause the body to reduce production of these and other pleasure chemicals, which is the physiological basis for addiction. With smoking the rhythm is disrupted, the body doesn't produce more of these chemicals, it releases less at other times so that it can cover the toxic inflow. When you stop, your body has to adjust, that can take time. That's your addiction.

The mechanisms that regulate eating and weight, also use pleasure chemicals as part of a comprehensive set of whole body interactions. Every part of the body requires nourishment, every part is involved. The reason we keep comparing the facilitator of our existence to things of comparatively no import, is due to the traditional competition between addicts, for the prize of which addiction is the hardest to stop. That's fine but it all comes unstuck when trying to extend that thinking to eating.


  1. I'll try to respond, though truthfully you write in such a way that I can't really be sure what you're saying. I believe your science is incorrect. Your body does indeed produce more of these "chemicals", though it's some sort of neurotransmitter (nicotinic acid, one of the B vitamin derivatives?) and not endorphins. Smoking causes you to have more receptors, because nicotine binds and competes. That's why people who quit cigarettes are so frazzled for a few days (it seems like you have never been a smoker so you wouldn't know this).

    As both a person who has quit smoking and a person who has lost weight, I STILL consider smoking to be very similar to overeating. And how would you know any different?

    And quitting smoking is very uncomfortable, partly because of the physical addiction, partly because it's such a comfortable pattern, something that soothes oneself (like overeating). Quitting it leads to huge discomfort, a few days of hell and white-knuckled days, much willpower needed. It's very short term, kind of like a diet, unlike a lifestyle change, which you also don't seem to believe in. So many people have this view that one must either eat with reckless abandon, or starve themselves. Life isn't all black and white like that.

    You can consider me eating well, eating happily, and losing weight, with my LIFESTYLE change. Yes, it's comfortable enough that I did it for 3 months without losing a pound, because this is now how I live. Now I'm down 20, and I have to go make myself an omelette (one bacon, one egg, one 9 grain toast, 2 shiitakes, 2 leaves spinach, and a small handful of cheese. Awful diet food, yes. And then I'm going hiking.

  2. Let me amend that last comment, now that I've had some coffee. No, the mechanism of ciggie addiction is not that you make more neurotransmitter, it's that you make more binding sites. And having quit ciggs a few times, and watched others quit heroin, I don't think you're understanding the "easier to quit heroin than cigarettes". Heroin is by far more addictive, it's just you're less likely to run into it at a party, can't go into the grocery store and buy it on a bad day (hm, similar to bingeing, aye?), thus it's easier to quit.

    Smoking provides comfort, like overeating (endorphins, seratonin, numbness, whatever). And I think we all overeat, at least here in the USofA, just not all of us are genetically predisposed to storing so much fat. And some have other coping mechanisms, such as sex and exercise (my 2 faves), drinking, smoking weed, whatever, that we do instead, that counteract this tendency to put on weight.

  3. The purpose of the post was to explain why it's erroneous to compare smoking to eating.

    As the post was almost exclusively concerned with the biology of smoking dependency, I thought that illustrated above all that I'm not interested in looking down on people, you are the one thinking yourself to be expert in humanity not me, I'm a student of human nature.

    For me the whole weight thing is not occuring in isolation I might as well write about others I feel have been mislead by the same attitude of contempt and disrespect for how people manage that is playing itself out with fat people, amongst others. It's one of the many reason's I utterly destest the term 'lifestyle choice', people's lives are not 'styles' and the people who came up with that term wouldn't dream of deameaning their own precious lives with that worthless rot.

    Part of the reason why fat hate is so acceptable to thoughtful and decent people such as yourself, is all the other bullshit that people are told because it's just more convienient for those who make these decisions.

    I've always struggled with the idea that nicotine is responsible for a dependency on cigarettes that can go so deep that some people literally smoke themselves to death.

    ...people who quit cigarettes are so frazzled for a few days.
    is not a plausible viewpoint for those in difficulty.

    You also asked me:
    And how would you know any different?

    For me the key is that I beleive in general, people are doing, no matter how strange or self defeating it may seem from the outside, they are doing the best they are able to do at that point.

    When you start from that premise, you can observe others in a more enlightened way, becuase you are not looking to call people stupid and make yourself feel better at their expense, but to learn something about what it means to be human.

    Years ago a therapist told me that she felt that a lot of smoking was about breathing, that for most adults-most of our breathing patterns;especially in the West- tend to become quite shallow which robs us of a lot of energy.
    She felt that for many, smoking was a way to breathe really, really deeply and that they cherished that, break from the huh, huh, breathing.
    That really connected with me because I had been slowly teaching myself a few breathing exercises.
    After that I began to notice that a hell of a lot of (popular) singers smoked, again I thought breath.
    The point is smoking has more than one hook, but I was specifically expressing the central one that makes it difficult if not seemingly impossible for some to stop.
    Your thing about the receptors if the case, may well be in addition to that, but it cannot explain what previously made me sceptical about nicotine addiction what smokers themselves say about how they use cigarettes and how it makes them feel. Usually they say that smoking gives them energy, uplift-cheers them up- and relaxes them. Nicotine being a stimulant, is unlikely to do the above, in the past, some people thought it was merely imagination.
    But what does do all those things, are the pleasure chemicals, they do all the above, so maybe smokers did know something about what smoking does for them after all, and maybe if they'd been listened to properly instead of assumed to be stupid about their habit, help might have been better tailored to their needs, especially those who find it very hard to end their habit.

    If smoking is like anything it's like cutting yourself, that makes use of a similar body response, when cut your body releases pleasure chemicals to help ease the pain, maybe to help stop you panicking etc.

    Anyway, I don't wish you ill in your diet endeavours, I think dieting is vile even on the rare occasions that it works, but I wouldn't wish diet failure on anyone and I mean that.

  4. Well, I'm too lazy to figure out your very strange writing, but I see your defensive tone and how you are making assumptions, and attacking me, so I'll just say I think you're as full of it as you think I am, and I won't read your blog. No loss, since I don't understand what you're saying.

    Down 20 pounds, and still happy! Have a nice life.

  5. .....and I won't read your blog

    I'll endeavour to bear this with fortitude.