Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Pause Reaches 1 Year Mark

A little over a year ago I took a break from smoking -- and have not smoked since then. I say "break" because I fully intend to start up again once technology or imminent death makes the threat posed by smoking sufficiently unimportant. All those cliches about people starting up smoking again on crashing airplanes or just prior to nuclear war breaking out are simply examples of people engaging in rational behavior.

This time I went the chewing gum and mints angle -- simply toss the cigs then, whenever the urge hit, step outside as was my normal habit and chew a stick of gum or a mint for a few minutes. The physical withdrawal symptoms were 72 hours of heightened anxiety, like after drinking too much coffee, 48 hours of which also included fever and slightly accelerated heart-rate. Not even as bad as suffering a mild cold.

I have to admit that watching people on TV or in movies smoke makes me want to smoke too -- so that's some argument for reducing the amount of smoking in the media. However, watching someone on TV or in a movie eating Round Table Pizza also makes me long for a sausage, pepperoni, and mushroom thin crust.

That said, doctors do sometimes speak of different people reacting more or less strongly to addictive substances, so perhaps there are others who actually have real addictive reactions, and not merely the, all too common, anguish of unfulfilled desire that I suffer. The problem, like the problem of knowing what it's like to be a bat, is that one can never really know whether or not others are having experiences just like you, but complaining more, or using the claim of addiction to help excuse the fact that they really don't want to stop that bad, or puff up our opinion of their moral fortitude when they do successfully stop -- or they're really feeling something different: a kind of compulsion that I can never fully appreciate.


dan said...

Steve - Very glad to hear you've given up smoking (or are on a long break).

For me, the big question with addiction is whether this counter-factual is true: "They could have chosen not to keep taking the drug". If it's true then it's just a question of having the will power (sure, maybe a lot of will power, but still will power). If the counter-factual is not true then addiction is something I have no understanding of at all.

I'm inclined to think that its more a question of how good one is at controlling desire than how uncontrollable one's desires are. (If that makes any sense at all). People conquer addiction when the alternatives to drugs finally seem better to them.

Steve Peterson said...

I agree but I wonder if maybe I just can't appreciate what it's like to have a compulsion. I see these psychologists come on TV and talk about addictive personalities and so on and feel like I should leave open the possibility that others have different experiences.

And I don't know what a compulsion would be like either. I expect it would be something like an urge -- perhaps the way one is suddenly hit with a need for a certain kind of food, or maybe the kind of emotional turmoil one experiences when a relationship revs up and we do things that we wouldn't ordinarily do because of all the hormones.

Similarly, Jaru definitely has different emotional reactions based on the state of her hormones, and this leads to behavior that she'll come back later and say that she'd rather not have done. So it does seem that we have some examples of how this process might work -- but, perhaps, many of us are fortunate enough to only be faced with desires, and not compulsions.