Smoking, whether we label it as a habit or an addiction or whichever else, is a behavior. And much like a snowball, it has a starting point, and then it gets bigger. People tend to perceive addiction of any substance as “try it once and you’re hooked for life.” But it’s just not that simple. The etiology of smoking is in its best context a complex, multi-factorial process, and no factor is solely responsible to cause it as such. In this article, we will discuss stages of smoking, what makes an addiction, and how a nonsmoker gradually falls into the smoking trap.
Stages of Smoking *
If we’re to talk about the stages of smoking behavior, as per psychology, we’d have a lot to be considered. Starting with a study that has it categorized into several stages and levels.
- First stage is nonsmoking:
And that, itself, is made of two sub-stages. One is simply when a person isn’t expressing any sort of intention to smoke. While the second follows with a developed preparation, and more perception to the process of smoking. This can be noticed in real life as “I hate smoking and everything about it,” moving on to “It is okay; you can smoke if you want.”
- Second stage is trying:
Which can be described as “Yes, I can have a cigarette or two in parties.” But ever so often, most youth skip the contemplation phase, with a leap to trying.
- Third is regular smoking:
And by regular smoking, we mean an average number of cigarettes weekly or monthly, or in specific habitual occasions. Which can be linked to what ‘Friday nights’ are to some adolescents.
- Fourth comes daily:
With a daily dose of nicotine, dependence is developed. And dependence is merely a nice word to describe addiction; a regulated internal need for nicotine.
Nicotine Dependence *
Let us now decompose dependence into its own stages.
Tolerance is simply our bodies getting familiar with the substance itself, although it had been recently suggested that tolerance may not be a component of dependence, but a strong linkage between chronic tolerance and soon-to-follow dependence.
- Unpleasant sensations
After developing tolerance, not satisfying the regulated need causes our bodies to “miss” the substance. A physiological sensation commonly named as “withdrawal symptoms.”
It is now a memory, and since our minds tend to erase the negatively labeled memories and keep the positive ones; one would recall the good feeling of ‘having a smoke’, which is amplified by the encounter of hardships of challenges or tough experiences. Making “I’d really want a smoke right now” on the tip of tongue, or sometimes expressed.
This can happen years, months, weeks, days, or even hours after having the last cigarette. This depends really on willpower and resistance, and it’s why nicotine cravings are quite the hassle to overcome, though in varying degrees depending on the individual.
Smoking and Willingness *
Generally, smoking can predict the use of subsequent drugs or substances, mainly alcohol. That is also true the other way around; substance use can predict smoking initiation.And smoking also can be related to behavioral problems, such as rebelliousness and risk-taking, or to simply genetic factors that contribute to that or to other substance use.
A very interesting manuscript recently published by Baumeister (Jan 2017), namely, “Addiction, cigarette smoking, and voluntary control of action: Do cigarette smokers lose their free will?” has underlined observations on the curious matter of why adults dodge the responsibility (more like a liability) that comes with smoking? Surely, they are aware of the negative consequences of their behavior, it’s hard to imagine that no one does. So, really, why would anyone continue with a harmful behavior that they very well know it is? The answer is in the magical word: addiction.
Addiction in this sense functions by not only catalyzing the unconscious mind to initiate, and thus having the conscious mind acquiesce it, but also by sedating the conscious mind gradually to accept the impulse of lighting a cigarette. Because, in the seat of free will, the conscious mind probably has the only power to take a preventive action, or to simply disregard objecting to it, voluntarily. This is even more likely to occur when lighting one is to directly follow a certain action, such as jogging, eating, or having sex. (Tiffany, 1999)
Smoking Can Be Compulsive *
And on the topic of eating as an association with smoking, there’s also an interesting study building on the SRED (sleep-related eating disorder). SRED is when one is asleep, then gets up, walks to the fridge, and begins a conscious but non-controllable intake of random foods. This is to put it simply. Because building on it, the study closely observed how some patients that usually linked eating to the smoking habit actually lit a cigarette afterwards. In their sleep. What’s also interesting is that NONE of them had daytime eating disorders, and they ranged from regular to heavy smokers. One particular case woke up twice, once to eat and smoke, and once to only smoke. This is while the patient appeared conscious and answered experimenters’ questions correctly, reporting waking up because of an inner compulsion.
This can also be backed by another study named “Nocturnal sleep-disturbing nicotine craving” (2001). In which, compulsion was reported to drive patients’ extreme need for nicotine to simply wake up, and light a couple of cigarettes, then get back to sleep. Like nothing happened.
Maybe this would sound less bizarre in the context of similar compulsions during sleep period, such as trichotillomania, an irresistible impulse to pull one’s own hair, or sexomania, where a person who is asleep proceeds to initiate actual sex with his/her bed partner.
Bottom line here is: what could seem like simply a habit may advance to what is a lot more than perceived or noticed, and may alter one’s own free will to align with the consistency of fulfillment to that urge or need. And dependency on substance can be sleazy enough to not let one have a normal, perfect life without it. But luckily, and now that we know it, there are more tailor-made programs to help with the cessation of smoking, alcohol, or illicit drugs. With a better understanding of what the issue is, solutions with better success percentages are present.