Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How I Quit Smoking

For twenty years I smoked about a pack a day. In the beginning I only smoked in the evenings after dinner but years passed, I would wake up in the morning and crave a cup of coffee and a cigarette. 

Then well over a year ago, I came down with a annoying and persistent cough. It was the kind of cough that makes people around you look up suddenly.  A doctor friend of mine recommended I try an amino acid in fizzy tablet form. It was supposed to break up the mucus in your lungs and help you remove the congestion in your lungs.

Around that time, I secretly developed this fear that this cough was something more than merely a cold.. after all, three weeks seems like a very long time to be coughing. It was the kind of coughing that doctors warn you about. Hacking and dry.  I thought I had lung cancer and, coward that I am, I was too afraid to have any kind of examination. However, I did make a promise to the higher power (or to myself, I don't remember which) that if I did NOT have cancer then I would permanently quit smoking. It was the kind of bargaining that dying patients usually make.

Then the strangest thing began to happen. The first cigarette free day passed and I didn’t feel much anxiety. I certainly drove my co-workers crazy talking about cigarettes too much but the craving was nothing as bad as I had expected it to be. The first week passed and still no great system shock or shutdown, definitely no sneaking around with that half a cigarette arrangement people sometimes try.  I did not compensate by binge eating which sometimes happen. (In fact, I did eat more than usual simply because I enjoyed the flavor more.) Strangely enough,  although I kept a nearly full pack of cigarette in the shelves near my computer desk, I could look at it and not feel any uncontrollable desire pulling my hand forward. Nothing at all.  I would occasionally look at it and think of it as if it belonged to some party guest months before.

But why? In the past I had tried and I had failed. When you fail and return to smoking, often  the smoking habit returns twice as bad as before. This time was very different.

And then.. I understood a possible reason. It could have been the effect of the amino acid. N-acetyl-cysteine, NAC for short.  After doing some internet research, I learned a few interesting and confirming facts:

A study team found that exposure to NAC was associated with a statistically significant reduction in the desire to use cocaine and participants had less interest in cocaine. The research on NAC and cocaine addiction has a sound biological basis in rats and likely in people. The theories about glutamate and cysteine that underpin the biology of cocaine addiction may also give hope to people addicted to other substances such as tobacco, heroin and crystal methamphetamine.

Of course, you never know and I am certainly not a doctor. Also, there is that pesky placebo effect that confuses any positive result. However, since that time, I have not returned to smoking and, more importantly, have hardly had much of a craving for nicotine. I no longer take the amino acid, except prior to drinking alcohol since it also tends to lessens hangovers, by protecting the liver from damage.

Before I quit, I used to ask other ex-smokers if they still missed smoking and they would shrug and say with a glum expression, “Sometimes.”  For me it is different, I just wonder why I ever started in the first place.

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