Smokers could be considered the forgotten addicts. Government and law enforcement crack down on illicit street drugs. Most rehab centers focus on treating the “hard” drugs, such as opiates, amphetamines and alcohol. Yet tobacco — which remains freely available and, for the most part, socially and legally acceptable — causes major health problems, ultimately killing millions of users each year.
Society considers smoking to be a lifestyle choice and physical health issue, while turning a blind eye to nicotine’s powerful addictive qualities. The end result is people wanting and needing help to quit, but many not finding it.
More Addictive than Heroin
Every year, millions of Americans try to quit smoking. Success rates are abysmal: only 2.5 percent of 53 million American smokers successfully quit every year. Most smokers try to quit by themselves, only to find withdrawal symptoms and cravings too strong to resist.
Studies into smoking reveal nicotine is more addictive than cocaine, amphetamines and heroin. Withdrawal symptoms hit rapidly, usually within four hours of the last cigarette smoked. Cravings peak within the first three to five days, a period when many people return to smoking.
Nicotine’s other withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, mood swings, mental confusion and insomnia. Physically, nicotine cessation causes headaches, sweating and nausea. Cold-like symptoms develop as the lungs start to clear.
If a street drug caused the combination of cravings and withdrawal symptoms seen with nicotine, medical professionals would recommend drug detoxification and rehab. Smoking’s established place in society instead leaves smokers struggling with their addiction alone.
Smokers Want to Quit
Up to 70 percent of smokers express a desire to quit. They certainly have motivation to do so: health complications from nicotine kill 5.4 million deaths globally every year. The health risks of smoking are common knowledge: most smokers understand they’re slowly killing themselves.
Again, we return to the same problem. Medical professionals educate smokers about health risks and encourage them to quit the habit. They may provide some tools, such as nicotine patches or recommending support groups. But for the most part, the smoker is left to fight a lonely battle.
Treating Nicotine Dependency as an Addiction
Fortunately, medical approaches to nicotine dependency are changing. It’s become clear that simply prescribing a nicotine patch and joining a support group isn’t enough. For long-term success, smoking needs to be treated like any other addiction, including through the use of holistic treatments.
Combining most smokers’ genuine desire to quit with traditional and holistic rehab treatments would greatly increase abstinence rates. Too often smokers only access treatment for the physical symptoms of addiction. Holistic rehab facilities offer mental and spiritual support.
Treatments such as yoga and meditation offer opportunities for smokers to shift their mental focus away from smoking, while music and art therapy provides an outlet for emotional expression. Many smokers experience feelings akin to grief when they stop smoking, much as you might feel with the death of a loved one. Instead of ignoring these feelings, holistic treatments guide recovering smokers through the grieving process, helping them move forward, rather than returning to their addiction.
It is important to note that tobacco is often regarded by addiction professionals as the “lesser of two evils” when it comes to other drug use. Tobacco is at times allowed during treatment to allow progress on the worse addiction the client primarily entered rehab for.