A Common Vocabulary
Ask 5 people to define ‘addiction’
and you’ll likely receive 5 definitions that, while close,
will be just different enough to create confusion. We need a
common understanding for a few words. They are:
1 - Situations
2 - Body cues
3 - Nicotine Addiction
4 - Smoking Habit
5 - Rational Response
6 - Urge/Crave
7 - Autopilot
These are the definitions I use:
1 - Situations - external events or internal states
that you experience (life).
This includes (a small list):
- drinking a cup of coffee, driving
- on the phone, at the computer, taking the garbage to the curb
- getting up in the morning, taking breaks, meeting with others
- being tired, hungry, angry, lonely, bored, relaxed, hot, or
- nicotine withdrawal (too long since your last cigarette)
2 - Body Cues – identifiable parts or
areas of your body.
The most common identifiable body cues are:
- changes in breathing or the condition of your breathing e.g.
rapid, shallow, slow, deep
- muscle tension e.g. neck,shoulders, jaw, hands, back, stomach,
These next two are included as body cues because they generally
have a physiological basis e.g. fatigue, hunger, dehydration:
- foggy thinking and/or difficulty concentrating
- mood shifts
3 - Nicotine Addiction - your body’s
dependence on nicotine to relieve reoccurring nicotine withdrawal
As your nicotine level drops, the 4 initial symptoms of withdrawal
- increased muscle tension
- shallow breathing
- mood shifts.
Those symptoms become increasingly uncomfortable
until you feel compelled to act. Smoking raises your nicotine
level relieving withdrawal discomfort within seconds. That is
the basis of the need/feed nature of ‘nicotine addiction’, a fluctuating level of nicotine
and its associated characteristics.
4 - Smoking Habit - your association of a
smoking response to body cues REGARDLESS of the source of those
cues e.g. fatigue, boredom, hunger, anger, sitting in traffic,
general anxiety, or too long since your last cigarette.
Most quitters continue to feel urges to smoke long after they’ve
dealt with the chemical addiction. Those ongoing urges to smoke
occur because your autopilot has been trained to associate certain
body cues, regardless of their source, with a specific effective
response … a cigarette. That is the smoking habit.
5 - Rational Response - an ‘effective’
action based on your rational evaluation of current conditions
rather than on your established beliefs or automatic assumptions.
A rational response to tension in your neck and shoulders would
be to stretch those specific muscles. A rational response to
shallow breathing would be to take several proper deep breaths.
A rational response to hunger would be to eat. Thirst - drink!
Tired - Rest! This may sound oversimplified, but rational responses
often are just that simple.
6 - Urge or Crave - your desire for something
or your compulsion to initiate a particular action.
Your urges and/or cravings (I use the terms interchangeably)
are the end of a three step process that begins with (1) a body
cue, followed by (2) an associated response, ending in (3) an
urge/crave/desire to initiate that particular response. Because
you are typically unaware of this process until you feel an
urge or craving, they often feel as if they come ‘out
of the blue.’
7 - Auto Pilot – the
part of your brain that directs automatic and primal responses.
Your conscious brain
delegates most repetitive behaviours to your auto-pilot. Throughout your life, you train that part of you by repeating
and reinforcing certain 'cue/associated response' patterns.
Situations are the external events you encounter
and/or the internal states of
being that you experience.
Body Cues are your specific physical sensations.
Mental acuity and shifts in
emotion are included as body cues.
Nicotine Addiction is your physiological dependence
on nicotine to relieve
your reoccurring withdrawal symptoms.
Smoking Habit is your behaviour involving
cigarettes and the way in which
they’ve become your default
response to the body cues common to daily
Rational Responses are effective actions based
on an evaluation of current
Urges or Cravings result
when a response is associated with a particular
Auto Pilot is the part of your mind that’s
in charge of your habitual and
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Stephen Polansky All rights reserved.
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