Have you ever been in a place, or been doing an activity, at which you have regularly smoked in the past and really felt like lighting up again, even if you’ve vowed to quit? Then you’ve experienced the effects of Situational Smoking. The thing is, it’s not just an association in your mind; recent research suggests that it is your brain getting ready for an infusion of your drug of choice – nicotine.
I expect every smoker that has quit feels this way at one time or another. You are in your favorite chair, or in the car in a traffic snarl, or relaxing after some intimate time with your partner, in general a place or an activity that your mind strongly associates with smoking. Have a think about it. You’ll probably find at least one, but more likely several. A favorite doorway outside work, a food or drink that you associate with a smoke, or a piece of furniture that you‘ve regularly occupied when smoking. Whatever it is, you have just discovered a habitual queue that tells your mind you are likely to smoke.
So what is happening in your head at times, or in places like these? To help you understand the effect, I have to tell you a parallel story that you might have never dreamed could be related; that of junkies dying in alleyways.
Ever wondered why so many heroin users die in alleyways? Perhaps you think the just go there to shoot up, overdose and die. Not so. What would you think if I told you that they have no more heroin in that alleyway than they do at home. They didn’t die from that dosage at home, so why do they die in the alley? This comes down to the situational effect again. Here’s how it plays out.
The user injects say 10 units of heroin to get the buzz they need at home. They go out to dinner. Their last buzz wears off, and they want it back before they go clubbing. They sneak out into the alley behind the restaurant, and hit up with their usual 10 units and it kills them. Why?
This is the Situational Effect, and you know what, it wasn’t the heroin that killed them, it was their brain. When you mind associates a place or an activity with the intake of a drug, and you are in that place or undertaking that activity, your brain expects a hit of your drug of choice (and don’t kid yourself, nicotine is a drug of addiction). So what does your brain do? It’s depresses your neurotransmitters (specifically the chemicals in your brain that make you feel good) to make you ‘ready’ for the drug. Some researchers think it’s a protective mechanism to prevent overdose. Sad thing is, when the drug taker is not in their regular drug taking place or doing the drug-related activity, their brain does not depress their central nervous system (CNS), they go too far on the same dose, and OD.
So that’s what happens to our hapless junkie. A dose that would have given just the right buzz at home kills them in an unfamiliar location.
Now I’m not suggesting you are a junkie. You’re a regular person who’s probably having a rough time quitting cigarettes. But one of the ‘why’s’ that cause this rough time is the Situational Effect.
Whatever this place or activity is, if your mind associates it with smoking then it will cause you to really want to light up when you are there, or when you are doing that activity.
Now our Complete Lung Detoxification Guide recommends that you get away from these places and activities to help you break the association. Problem is, the research I’ve recently been following suggests that as soon as you do the activity again, or go back to the place that your mind associates with smoking, your brain will down-regulate your CNS and you’ll feel crappy, and want to smoke. This happens even if you’ve been quit for quite a while. And unfortunately, there is no easy way to get around it.
As we so often state: awareness is the key. If you are aware that this will happen, you can be ready for it. This effect is only temporary, lasting from half an hour to several hours, depending on your past levels of smoking. If you know it is coming, you can be ready for it, and can distract yourself until your neurotransmitters recover.
The good news? The more times you put yourself in your ‘Situational Smoking’ locations, or do the related activities WITHOUT smoking, you’re retraining your brain not to do this anymore. Eventually (and the time this takes will vary from person to person) your brain will lose the association of smoking with that place or activity, and the CNS depression of that situation will decrease, and then disappear entirely.
So keep at it! Put yourself in your Situational Smoking place/activity when you are feeling strong, and wait it out. When you do so and you don’t feel like smoking, you’ll know you’ve REALLY beaten the habit that kills millions every year!
Until next time,
stay well, stay quit, and lung-toxin free.