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Q: What Do Cigarette Cravings Feel Like?

Do you you have a child who throws temper tantrums? Or have you ever done it yourself? It’s like that. “Craving” a cigarette is not really like the physical substance dependence issue experienced by a junkie craving a fix, or an alcoholic craving alcohol. In those cases, craving refers to a loss of mental and physical control, possibly even a serious medical problem. With cigarette cravings, smokers are not experiencing a significant chemical withdrawal effect, they don’t need medical attention, it’s really a behavioral matter.

If you say, “I’m craving pizza for dinner” there’s a good chance you’re just communicating that you’ve already decided to do that and you’re really looking forward to it. Smokers get a lot of behavioral reinforcement and repetition from saying “I really really want one!” and “I’m really looking forward to it!” Then they always have one right away, or as soon as possible — immediately giving the brain a dose of reinforcing drug effect in return for simply saying “ I want it!” The more you reinforce (reward) and rehearse that cognitive / behavioral response, the more powerful it gets.

Imagine if you gave your child a piece of delicious candy every time s/he said, “I really really want candy!” Do this about 20 times a day for X years. Then, one day you look in the jar and realize you’ve run out of candy, or you suddenly decide to stop allowing it. Imagine that child’s response to this new information, and you’ll understand the true nature of a smoker’s “craving.”



Q: At what rate do lungs recover after quitting smoking?


The long-term answers quoted here (10–15yrs) are correctly related to the amount of time it takes to normalize statistical health-risks — you’re not going to feel any sudden difference in your oxygen capacity on your 10th or 15th anniversary of not smoking. By that time you have returned to a nonsmoker’s level of risk for certain cancers, pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases.

Meanwhile there are very significant improvements that happen much much faster, definitive physical changes you can actually feel and enjoy.

One lung problem with smoking is that a pack-day smoker is putting about a coffee-cup of tar into the lungs each year. You never have that much tar in the lungs at any one time (or you would immediately suffocate!) because your immune system is kept busy working at all times trying to clear that out, it attacks the tar with white blood cells, like an infection. (This is one reason smokers may have more trouble recovering from actual illness and infections) But as long as you keep smoking, your immune system can never finish this job – a smoker keeps putting fresh tar into the lungs with every puff. Wherever there is even a thin layer of tar in the lungs, it creates a physical barrier that prevents oxygen from getting into the bloodstream at that place in the lung. The overall result is a reduction in oxygen import.

Also, smokers are taking carbon monoxide into the lungs with every puff, it constitutes about 4% of cigarette smoke. Hemoglobin in the red blood cells is designed to pick up oxygen in the lungs and transport it somewhere else in the body (brain, heart, muscles, etc) where it can be released for local use. But when Carbon Monoxide is present it attaches more readily to hemoglobin than oxygen does. In fact it pushes out the oxygen molecules and prevents them from getting carried around. If you are continually taking Carbon Monoxide on board, it always pushes O2 “off the train,” produces an overall reduction in oxygen transport.

When you stop smoking, the immune system will now be able to finish the job of clearing up that tar barrier, producing a rapid noticeable improvement in oxygen import – the actual timing will of course vary depending on how much tar an individual has in the lungs at the time of quitting. And within a few days of stopping the Carbon Monoxide intake your hemoglobin will have been able to release those molecules and resume picking up oxygen instead, producing a dramatic improvement in oxygen transport.

These two improvement factors combined provide a rapid and very noticeable upgrade in your oxygen processing capacity, which feels like the main thing we’re looking for in terms of pulmonary recovery, and in turn has a direct effect on your ability to breathe freely and have more physical energy and endurance.

My lungs showed early signs of COPD/ emphysema at age 46 after 30 years of heavy smoking. I’ve been quit for 15 years now, so technically my health risks are back to that of a nonsmoker’s, but that’s not the main thing I’ve noticed. At the time of the diagnosis, I was struggling to get up a flight of stairs without gasping for oxygen. After only a few months of zero smoking, I was jogging for the first time in my life. Within one year of quitting, I ran my first 10K and within two years I ran my first marathon. Technically, there may still be some ancient tissue damage in my lungs, but the improvements in O2 Processing and general health can more than offset any risks or difficulty related to that.

(EDITED 5/16 to correct a science error about Carbon Monoxide, but the answer remains the same – Frank)

(“Most Viewed Writer” in Quitting Smoking on


Q: Why does nicotine addition occur faster than alcohol addiction?

The answer is not about the relative “strength” or potential for chemical substance dependence. When we hear about nicotine being “more powerfully addictive” than heroin, etc, that’s not because of the intensity of the tolerance and withdrawal cycle. Chemically, it is much easier to “detox” from nicotine dependence than from almost any other recreational drug, and the genuine withdrawal symptoms are so mild as to be almost unnoticeable.

( Previous Post: What Are The Symptoms Of Nicotine Withdrawal? )

The true addictive nature of smoking lies in the fact that every cigarette delivers a small but effective dose of nicotine to the brain. That brief psychoactive effect engages the brain’s neurochemical reward pathway and functions as a reinforcer of whatever behavior produced the nicotine (smoking, NRT Gum, vaping.) This is not a chemical dependence issue, it’s about the brain learning to repeat a behavior that gets a reinforcing drug-effect every single time.

Very importantly, the drug effect of nicotine is comparatively brief. It’s a rapid-onset, short-duration drug effect. Smoking a drug is the fastest way to get it to your brain, it takes only a few seconds. Then the half-life of nicotine in the brain is only about 90 minutes, the initial effect wears off very quickly Also, your brain is very good at building up a rapid tolerance for nicotine, we no longer get dizzy with each puff, it starts requiring a larger dose to get the brain what it expects. But then that level of tolerance will fade very quickly, all you have to is stop for a day or two and the dizziness returns.

Rapid onset, short duration drug effects are intially quite intense, then quickly fade, leading the user to “go again” right away. With the rapid capacity to develop almost 100% tolerance, the smoker is able to go again , and again, and again. The frequent and repetitive self-administration process reinforces itself every time and quickly becomes a behavioral problem, a process addiction.

Alcohol takes longer to get to the brain, it has to pass through the digestive system first, so you don’t get a sudden “rush” connected to swallowing behavior. Then the effect sticks around in the brain for a longer time, it doesn’t require steady re-upping the way nicotine does. Also, it’s more difficult to develop a high tolerance for alcohol, but once a drinker does so it may require an extremely difficult (life-threatening even) and lengthy withdrawal process to get free of it.

There are also social factors enhancing the frequency of reinforcement in smoking vs. drinking behaviors. People can smoke cigarettes all day long in ordinary situations without experiencing legal problems or debilitating intoxication. Can’t do that with alcohol or other drugs. Nicotine is legal everywhere, comparatively cheap and more socially acceptable than, say, meth. People tend to quit smoking frequently, casually even, then relapse more often because they don’t see the harm in “just one cigarette” whereas recovering alcoholics are usually more careful to not have “just one.” That kind of failure can be easily misinterpreted as smoking being “more difficult to quit,” than other drugs, but that’s not a correct undertanding of the result.

We want to be careful and precise with language about this. When people say “Nicotine is more powerfully addictive than other drugs,” this should not be interpreted as a chemical comparison, and it definitely doesn’t mean that nicotine is physically more difficult to stop. Anyone who has ever gone through withdrawal from hard drugs or heavy alcohol knows that comparison is silly. What we can say with confidence and prove with pharmacology is that “rapid onset, short duration drug effects have the potential to result in abuse and addiction more rapidly than slow onset, sustained duration drug effects.”

website: HypNoSmoke / NicotineFree


Juul E-Cigs Have Been a Game Changer for Colorado Teens


Julien Lavandier, a Colorado State University junior, started smoking e-cigarettes as a high school sophomore. He says he’s now hooked on Juul and has been unable to quit.

Vaping has taken off with young people, especially with the most popular brand, Juul. Its devices are tiny, and look like a pen or flash drive. When someone vapes there’s no fire, ash or smoky odor — instead, the devices heat up and vaporize a liquid or solid.

Federal agencies recently launched a wave of crackdowns against retailers that sell the Juul brand e-cigarettes to minors. Public health officials worry it could be an emerging disaster, reversing years of declines in smoking.

Read the full article by John Daley / CPR News:


Q: What are the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal?

A great many smokers (my former self included) report having had terrible experiences while trying to quit smoking, and interpret those bad feelings as nicotine withdrawal. There is no question that a lot of people suffer (unnecessarily) while trying to quit, but most smokers cannot correctly identify the actual pharmacologic symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

Nicotine is a minor stimulant, it elevates heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. The subjective drug effect is a brief, mild dizziness from a sudden overstimulation of the Central Nervous System. That’s all. Your brain is very good at making adjustments for nicotine and can build up a complete tolerance very quickly. We stop feeling overstimulated / dizzy after each cigarette.

Psychopharmacology 101 : The withdrawal effects of any drug will be the opposite of the drug effects. In the case of nicotine, that would be feeling briefly under stimulated, a little run down or a little unfocused. But not for long. The half life of nicotine in the brain is about 90 minutes, so if you go 12–24 hours without taking any, you’ll lose your tolerance to the point where you can start to get dizzy again from smoking.

Most smokers don’t even notice the actual symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, or if they do, they don’t see it as a major problem — just a signal to light another cigarette. But if you ask what physical symptoms they’ve noticed, you will hear words like “anxious, irritable, cranky, tense” and especially “Craving.” These are not physical symptoms, nor are they produced by physical withdrawal.

Smokers who are trying to quit can easily experience those anxiety-based problems, and can keep them going (for weeks or month, even) long past the point where the chemistry of nicotine has become completely irrelevant. Over-caffienation can be a factor (nicotine has been blocking out more than half of your current caffeine intake) but these negative experiences are most often due to behavioral issues and a bad attitude about not getting a cigarette. If you feel that nonsmoking is a form of punishment and deprivation, you can easily find yourself throwing all kinds of temper tantrums and pity parties. But plenty of people do stop nicotine completely without any negative effects, simply by creating and maintaining the right attitude about what they’re doing and why.