I Am a Recovering Drug Addict

Nicotine Was My Drug of Choice


From your Guide to About.com Smoking Cessation, Terry Martin: Ellen is a member of our smoking cessation support forum here at About.com. She quit smoking over a year ago and now works to help young people avoid smoking by speaking to them about the dangers of nicotine addiction. The following is a speech she presented to a group of 16 to 18 year olds.

When you hear the word "addict" what comes to mind?

Would you think of a dirty homeless person? Someone who walks around muttering to themselves? A person with no job, begging? What comes to your mind when you think of what an "addict" is?

I am a recovering addict, only my drug is legal. It is a cigarette. I never considered myself addicted to cigarettes until I quit smoking. They are legal; they do not alter your perception of time or judgment; you can drive with them; you can do practically anything while smoking. And they are so glamorous!

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see how I used those cigarettes for everything- much like any drug user does. You light up if you are happy, sad, mad, bored, tired and need to wake up, or relax to sleep. A person who uses illegal drugs will likely use them for the same reasons. What makes cigarettes different from illegal drugs? You do not accidentally overdose on a cigarette and it kills you, right?

They might kill you eventually, but they do not usually kill immediately. You can take a "smoke-break" at work or school, and no one thinks anything of it. I know that feeling well, the one where you "need" to smoke that cigarette before you go crazy. Drug addicts think the same way. They "need" that fix to "feel right" again.

There are 599 additives in a cigarette. Just one cigarette. Imagine that. Those additives/ingredients make over 7,000 chemical compounds when they are lit, inhaled, and exhaled. There are about 70 known cancer-causing agents in cigarette smoke. Remember, that is just ONE cigarette. If one has that much stuff in it, imagine smoking a whole pack! Imagine breathing in a room full of smokers.

There are things in cigarettes to make them taste better, smell better, burn faster and evenly, and help deliver the nicotine into your system faster and more efficiently. Would you want to inhale ammonia, carbon monoxide, or cyanide? You're inhaling that and much more if you are smoking a cigarette.

I started experimenting with cigarettes when I was about 12 years old. My friend and I would steal a cigarette (or two if we were lucky) from her parents and hide behind her garage and smoke. To hide the smell, we would burn a small pile of leaves. We would not always do it, just once in a while, for fun. Those times were just practice until I became a full-fledged smoker at the age of 15.

Cigarettes made a person "cool" back then. I suppose even now kids who smoke might look "tough" or "cool." I mean, all the "cool" kids smoked when I was in school, and to be recognized by them in front of other kids, made me look even cooler!

That has not changed much, has it?

All I really heard about cigarettes was that they were "habit forming." To me, that was like biting your fingernails. It was suggested that they could cause cancer, but when I started, there was not a lot of fuss about it. That and it was really, really hard to stop once you start smoking. So I thought "what the heck?" if I do get cancer, I will be like 60 or 70, and at least I will have lived a full life, right? At 15, 60 sounds like a long way off, doesn't it?

Through the years I never made a clear effort to quit. I did put them down for a while and "take it easy for a week or two" but since I was doing so good with that, I could "reward" myself by having a smoke.

That is the way the majority of smokers see things. It is too easy to keep smoking. That innocent "habit" was accepted by everyone, and really, I never considered myself addicted. I chose to smoke; I saw nothing wrong with it. Besides, it was not as if I was doing drugs.

When my kids were 8 and 10, they would ask me if I would quit, and I knew I should if I did not want them to start. But I kept on smoking. Even when my son who was only eight was walking around with pens or licorice pretending to smoke, and my 10-year-old daughter was saying that she could not wait until she got older so she could smoke just like me. That did not drive it in me to quit! It was too easy to keep smoking; eventually though, everything you start must come to an end.

The addiction to cigarettes is as strong as any illegal drug. In order to quit, the person has to really want to quit. I had always heard how hard it was to quit smoking, and that scared me. I think one of the greatest lies ever told is that quitting smoking is hard to do. Quitting smoking is not what is hard - it is making the decision to quit that is hard.

I knew that if I wanted to keep breathing, I had to do something with my life. So, after having the same cold leave and come back for two months, I decided it was time to stop smoking - better to do it when I was sick. And guess what? Not smoking was not as hard as I thought it would be. There is nicotine withdrawal; it is a drug, and that is not pleasant to go through, but it was not impossible. Not that it is easy to stop once you start; it is very much not easy, and takes a lot of work and willpower to quit. I would not wish that on someone I did not like!

I would say it took about 4 or 5 months before the cravings to smoke stopped totally, and another 2 or 3 months after that before I felt totally comfortable not smoking. I still get thoughts occasionally about having one, so I would not say I am totally free of the "habit" or addiction. I don't have to struggle with myself about buying them anymore, and I can shrug off the thought of smoking, but I can never let my guard down because all it would take would be "just one" and I would be back to smoking a pack a day before a week was over.

People who are addicted to illegal drugs also have to exercise that kind of caution, though I think it is easier for them to change their life style and whom they know to stay away from concerning drugs. There will always be with me a risk of a relapse though, and I know this. All it takes is one drag off a cigarette and if it does not taste good, maybe the next drag will. I say that because cigarettes are everywhere, and legal to buy. You can get them at almost any store.

There is a great deal more information available now that was not around when I started smoking. It was suggested that, over time, cigarettes could be bad for your health. Now it is loudly proclaimed how bad smoking is for you. Still, knowing all the risks involved, a great many people start smoking every year.

To avoid becoming another tobacco addict, remember, it is not just tobacco you are inhaling. Even the so-called "natural" cigarettes have additives in them. Cigarettes do not make anyone look older or cooler. They will damage your health, change your appearance, and can make it hard to breathe though.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and the leading cause of death among smokers. Smoking is hard on the heart. It beats out deaths by drug overdose, suicide, AIDS, and accidents combined. You can say "we all have to die somehow," but you do not have to make that somehow be sooner than it needs to be.

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