For the Friends and Family of Nicotine Addicts
This pamphlet contains information about Nicotine Anonymous and nicotine addiction, and suggestions for those who are concerned about a tobacco or nicotine user. Our intent is to share our experience, strength, and hope in order to expand the circle of understanding and mutual support. If you are concerned about a spouse, relative, lover, or friend who is addicted to nicotine we hope you will find our literature helpful.
What is Nicotine Anonymous?
We are not a medical organization. Our understanding comes from our own personal experience with nicotine dependence and our process of gaining nicotine independence. A concise description of Nicotine Anonymous is:
Nicotine Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women helping each other to live our lives free of nicotine. We share our experience, strength, and hope with each other so that we may be free from this powerful addiction. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop using nicotine. There are no dues or fees for Nicotine Anonymous membership; we are self supporting through our own contributions. Nicotine Anonymous is not allied with any sect, denomination, political entity, organization or institution, does not engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any cause. Our primary purpose is to offer support to those who are trying to gain freedom from nicotine. (Preamble reprinted for adaptation with permission of the A.A. Grapevine)
Nicotine Anonymous received permission from Alcoholics Anonymous to adapt their Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions for this program of recovery from nicotine. The Steps are simply suggestions to guide a member’s recovery. Each member uses them in his or her own way. The principles of the Steps and Traditions have a spiritual foundation, but we certainly are not a religious organization, nor are we simply a smoking-cessation program. The recovery process offers the gift of a "spiritual awakening" as a result of our efforts.
Nicotine Anonymous does not impose any formal creed or even ask members to believe in God. We only ask that newcomers keep an open mind and respect the beliefs of others. Each person comes to his or her own understanding of a spiritual source of help. This source can simply be the spirit of togetherness at Nicotine Anonymous meetings.
Our Fellowship began in the early 1980s as Smoker’s Anonymous, but at our 1990 World Services Conference we decided to change our name to Nicotine Anonymous. This focused the Fellowship on the addictive agent and also widened our welcome to dippers, chewers, or anyone who sought help from nicotine addiction in any form.
Nicotine is officially classified as a poisonous alkaloid that is highly addictive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 9 out of 10 of those trying cigarettes go on to become nicotine addicts. Since 90% of cigarette smokers started before age 19, Dr David Kessler, the former director of the FDA, considers nicotine addiction to be a "pediatric disease."
We describe nicotine as cunning, baffling, powerful and patient. We experienced the addiction as a disease of the body, mind, and spirit. Addiction is not an ongoing disease because of a lack of will power or a deficiency of moral character. Many powerful and moral people have used tobacco and failed at attempts to quit. Nicotine generates a physical compulsion combined with a mental obsession to use more nicotine. Nicotine addiction also impaired our spiritual connection to a power greater than ourselves. When we continually reached for nicotine, we increasingly placed our faith in what we reached for.
Every person who uses tobacco is not necessarily a nicotine addict. Some only use tobacco once in a great while, can take it or leave it, and do not experience any withdrawal symptoms. However, these tobacco users are the rare exception.
Most nicotine users will maintain a level that balances with their state of nicotine tolerance. This is a point where withdrawal symptoms are held in check. For example, one person’s level could be a few cigarettes a day, another’s could be four or five packs a day.
Those of us who are addicted to nicotine may have an opportunity to recover our freedom and health through our abstinence from nicotine, but we are never "cured" of the addiction. If we use, we lose. Almost always, "just one" will lead to two, then three, then thousands more.
Addiction is also the one disease that requires self-diagnosis. The user is the one who needs to identify the symptoms and to admit there is a problem. It is up to each nicotine user to determine and admit, "I am a nicotine addict." We have found that nagging, criticism, and unsolicited advice often incite only an addict’s defensiveness and anger.
Not only can it be difficult for a nicotine user to accept that they are addicts, it can also be difficult for those close to the addict to accept this fact. Nicotine was only officially recognized as addictive in the 1980s. Historically, the term, "addict," has had a stigma attached to it. Also, admitting there is a problem initiates an expectation to take action and make changes. This may cause anxiety about potential discomforts and upheavals for everyone.
Many addicts, along with those close to them, can experience a state of mind known as denial. This is when we ignore, block out, and become unaware of actual conditions and consequences that confront us. It is a human response, a defense that avoids an awareness of threatening or undesirable situations. Addiction creates a mental obsession that nicotine is necessary for us to function. We believed we had a "need" for nicotine. When there was any lapse in our dosage it initiated withdrawal symptoms. These discomforts further suggested that we could not "live without it." Our thinking was distorted and we either denied the real truth of our behavior or made excuses.
Until a serious disease related to nicotine use is painfully obvious, many may argue, "There is no problem." The troubling behavior of alcohol and narcotic abusers makes it much more obvious that they have a problem. Members of Nicotine Anonymous come to realize how profoundly and subtly nicotine addiction has impacted their life, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Those of you who have attempted to address your concerns with a nicotine user often have a disturbing experience that may leave you frustrated, confused, disappointed, hurt, angry, or scared. Rarely will you find an addict who responds to another’s concerned remarks with, "Yes, you’re right, thank you, I’ll stop smoking right now." Even with the best intentions, attempting to get between an addict and their drug can lead to an unpleasant encounter. Sometimes, as everyone’s emotions escalate, it precipitates more drastic attempts to control the addict’s behavior while the addict’s heels dig in deeper. It may be just as difficult for you to accept that you are powerless to make another person stop using nicotine as it is for a nicotine user to accept that he or she is powerless to make nicotine stop being addictive.
If you have never been a nicotine addict, it may be very difficult to understand how someone can continue to engage in such dangerous behavior. If, like most non-users, you find the smell of tobacco smoke or its taste to be unpleasant or worse, it may be hard to imagine why anyone would enjoy it.
If you are a former tobacco user and it was fairly easy for you to quit, it may be difficult to understand why another tobacco user continues to fail at quitting. One of nicotine’s baffling qualities is that its grip is not the same on everyone. Although there is genetic and biochemical research that describe some of the various and powerful effects of nicotine, such complex issues and controversies are outside of the scope of Nicotine Anonymous.
They Want To Quit, But . . .
A common wish of smokers is that in some magic way a day will arrive when the craving will disappear or an absolutely painless way to stop smoking will be found. Typically, addicts can always find an excuse why now is not a good time to try to quit.
Usually before a tobacco user attempts to quit, he or she has experienced an escalating series of consequences resulting from using tobacco. For many, it is a downhill ride that only they or some disease will determine how far down it will go. For many, it is death.
Many tobacco users will say, "I want to stop," but then continue to use. You may not understand how someone can’t stop when they want to stop. A disease of compulsion and obsession continually interferes with the ability to make alternative choices, to change behavior.
For many smokers, smoking has been a "constant companion" and is associated with almost every activity and place in their daily routine. In addition to physical withdrawal symptoms, there is also a normal discomfort reflex that something is "missing" or "wrong" with their usual pattern of experience.
Smokers may smoke even more as their anxiety about quitting increases. Some may go through periods of reducing the amount they use, only to return to previous levels. Other smokers may switch to "lighter" brands, but end up smoking more in order to maintain nicotine levels.
Tobacco users may attempt to limit when and where they use, e.g., not in the bedroom, only outdoors, not in front of children, only at night.
Prior to joining Nicotine Anonymous, various members sought help from physicians, hypnotists, psychiatrists, acupuncturists, self-help books, and countless smoking-cessation programs. Sometimes they were able to quit, but they could not stay quit.
Our program is one of rigorous honesty. Tobacco smoke is as dangerous to non-smokers as
firsthand smoke is to smokers themselves. Other literature contains statistics about the
thousands of non-smokers who die or contract diseases annually as a result of continued
exposure to tobacco smoke. Expectant parents who smoke pose serious health risks to their
baby. Dilution, ventilation, or air cleaning are all unacceptable methods for the control of the
lung cancer or heart disease risks of secondhand smoke (OSHA, 1994).
Although you cannot make someone quit smoking, you may want to ask that the air you
breathe not endanger your health or the health of children too young to ask. The smoker may
not welcome this request. If the smoker is attending meetings and has a sponsor, you might
consider asking that secondhand smoke be a topic they discuss.
How Can You Help?
Unless a user has at least a small inkling of a desire to quit, a constructive dialogue may be very difficult, if not impossible. We have found that it is helpful in challenging situations to recite the Serenity Prayer.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can
and wisdom to know the difference.
Many nicotine addicts have gotten free through joining Nicotine Anonymous. However, according to our tradition, this Fellowship is "based on attraction rather than promotion." We accept that this program may not be for everyone and works best when someone feels drawn to it, not lured in.
After you have read this pamphlet you may want to provide him or her with some of our other literature "to look over and consider." Avoid beginning a sentence with, "You should...." Remember: If you "push," an addict will probably "shove." He or she may not welcome this information. However, if you are familiar with this material, you will be prepared to correct mistaken assumptions about Nicotine Anonymous and nicotine addiction.
If the nicotine user is willing to read our literature, you can offer to listen to what he or she thinks about it. If you are invited into the process, we suggest being a source of caring support, patient encouragement, and an interested listener. Recovery is no small task for either of you, but there can be many rewards for the effort.
To an addict, change usually arouses fears and a sense of losing control. Understand that, although he or she is involved in the life-threatening behavior of addiction, it is familiar. Life, as an adult, without nicotine may be completely unknown.
Accepting help is often very difficult for nicotine addicts. Many of us lived behind a "smoke screen" as if it was our refuge from other people. Anticipating the failure to quit in front of witnesses usually leads to expectations of ridicule and shame. However, coming to meetings and experiencing the mutual support of fellow addicts can ease this concern.
If he or she is willing to go to meetings, you might offer to drive, prepare meals, or watch their children. There may be any number of ways to facilitate attendance at meetings.
Remember, this is an anonymous program and confidentiality is essential. When he or she returns from a meeting you may discuss what was said at meetings, but please refrain from asking who said what. It is also our tradition to keep the focus on the principles of the program rather than be distracted by individual personalities.
If it is an "open" meeting, he or she may want to invite you to come along on occasion for support or to listen to what others have to share.
You might offer to participate in any new healthy activities that he or she decides to start.With respect for each person’s own understanding, we have found prayer to be a powerful and mutually beneficial experience.
Recovery can have its "roller coaster" moments. During the initial weeks of nicotine withdrawal, temporary moodiness and difficulty with concentration are not unusual. The moodiness may be extreme at times, but this is not to suggest that withdrawal is a license to be mean-spirited.
If withdrawal from nicotine causes irritability, you might be tempted to suggest that he or she have "just one" to "take the edge off." At best, this will only prolong the withdrawal process; at worst, it leads right back into full active addiction. A better suggestion would be that they consider the meeting’s phone list.
It is not uncommon for a nicotine addict to stop for months or even years and in a weak or arrogant moment have "just one." In no time at all, they most likely will find themselves right back in the nightmare again. Sometimes it is just a temporary "slip." This is not an uncommon occurrence. Recovery is not always a forward process, but taken as a series of learning opportunities, we make forward progress.
How Does This Program Work?
The only way out of the woods is through the trees. However, we found that being guided by this program’s principles helped us from getting lost along the way and delivered us from the darkness of our addiction. Since there is no cure, we remain mindful that this is a journey we pursue one day at a time.
This is a gentle program that each member takes at their own pace. Through mutual support and by practicing the program’s principles we make progress. We share a common struggle, but we also share a common laughter which helps lighten the load.
Physical, emotional, and spiritual recovery takes time. It is a process, not a singular event. Offering service to the fellowship is one of the tools of recovery. We hope that our friends and relatives understand the value of our spending this time and energy. In the long run, everyone can benefit.
In the beginning of recovery, he or she may startle you with enthusiasm about new spiritual experiences. For the addict it can feel miraculous not to be using nicotine every few minutes.
The process of the Twelve Step approach has been helpful both to addicts as well as their relatives and friends. Al-Anon, a Twelve Step fellowship, has been a valuable source of mutual support and self-awareness for the relatives and friends of alcoholics. We hope that some day the relatives and friends of nicotine addicts who seek the benefits of mutual support will form a Twelve Step fellowship for themselves. In the meantime, we encourage you to consider using these Steps for yourself as well. Remember, as with all aspects of this program, we invite you to "take what you need and leave the rest."
By reading our other literature you can further your understanding of this program. If you have other questions you can ask someone after a meeting, write a letter or email to the addresses listed in the next column.