Yesterday I saw a number of posts from people who had quit for long time periods in the past before relapsing. I think one was a 20 year quit, others were ten plus years. While this is scary to witness in so many people, it serves a purpose of teaching a very valuable lesson. It shows the addiction to nicotine. What I always thought was the greatest indicator of the addictive nature of nicotine is not how hard it is to quit. I think what better illustrates it is how easy it is to go back. That after being off for months, years, or even decades does not render a person "cured."
Many years ago a man who had once been off smoking for 25 years joined one of my clinics. After that great period of time his daughter developed a case of mononucleosis, and in trying to keep her occupied, he and his wife played pinochle with her for many days straight. He was sitting between the two of them who were constantly smoking. By the third day the tedium of the situation and the constant exposure to their smoke tempted him. He decided he would have a cigarette. After all, he figured he had been off smoking for a quarter of a century--what harm could there be in having one or two cigarettes?
That was 8 years and approximately 117,000 cigarettes smoked before he joined my program. Without understanding the concept of addiction, he allowed himself a cigarette. That resulted in an eight-year and two packs per day addiction. While 25 years would logically seem to be a safe period of time to have permanently broken free from a habit, addiction is a totally different matter. In drug addiction, no period of time makes a person capable of controlled limited use of a substance. Whether it be alcohol, heroin, cocaine, or tobacco, "once an addict always an addict" is an adage which must be understood and lived by. The day it is forgotten the addict will become complacent, and that complacency may cost the addict his continued abstinence, health, and, eventually, his life. It is a high price to pay for a poorly calculated gamble.
While this man may have been off longer than most ex-smokers, his story is in no way unique. In almost every clinic I ever did, at least a quarter of the group had quit for a year or longer. In fact, in the majority of programs we had at least one 5-year-plus ex-smoker enrolled to quit again and even ten-year relapsers were not at all uncommon. These people demonstrated over and over again the danger of taking even one puff, and its ability to cause a full-fledged relapse. The more this phenomenon is witnessed, the more undeniable the concept of one puff being capable of causing a full-fledged relapse becomes.
That is why continued reinforcement is imperative if an ex-smoker wishes to stay free from cigarettes. That is why continuing to occasionally participate at here at Freedom even after quitting for significant time periods is probably a good tool to keep everyone reinforced. Long-term quitters may disassociate themselves from their past, forgetting the level of control once exerted by cigarettes. "Maybe I am different" are famous last thoughts that pass through the ex-smoker's mind before relapsing.
Come witness the shock and disbelief of once successful quitters who are once again desperately trying to quit because they thought they could have just one. The anger, frustration, despair and pain are apparent in them as well as in the first time quitters too. While you may be having occasional passing thoughts for a cigarette as an ex-smoker, these people are experiencing a constant all-consuming obsession toward smoking.
Spending a few minutes reading or even participating in these stories, in all probability will prevent you from becoming the next victim of the complacency that caused their relapse. To avoid ever going through a difficult and possibly insurmountable quitting process yourself, keep up at Freedom and, most importantly, NEVER TAKE ANOTHER PUFF!