Quit by Choice

while you still have a choice.

Pascal’s Wager, Revisited

Do you believe in addiction? More to the point, do you believe that you are an addict? The answer to this question is super-important. Not for me; for you and for your chances of success at getting quit and staying that way.

One of the oldest arguments in the quit community is the argument about whether or not we’re actually addicts. Lots of smokers tell themselves (and others), “This addiction idea is nonsense; I can quit any time I want to.” (They often say this while they’re still smoking — i.e., while they’re still actively feeding their addiction — and they don’t even seem to be aware of the contradiction between their words and their actions.)

I Believe that I Am an Addict

I believe in addiction. And I believe that I am an addict. I believe that addiction is permanent, and that once we’re addicted the only real choice we have is whether or not we’re going to continue to feed that addiction. And I also believe that the vast majority of smokers are addicts (studies have shown that over 90% of regular smokers are addicted to nicotine, so this is a no-brainer).

In any case, whether you believe in addiction or not, I think the safe bet is to act as if you were an addict and treat your recovery with that level of seriousness. Here’s why I say this:

Pascal’s Wager

One of the oldest arguments in western philosophy is the argument about the existence of God. The famous French philosopher, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), proposed that — whether God existed or not — the prudent thing to do was to believe He did, and his argument has since become known as “Pascal’s Wager”.

An extreme over-simplification of his argument is:

The Argument

If I believe in God, and He actually exists, then my reward is eternal bliss; if I believe in God, and He doesn’t actually exist, I receive no reward (i.e., I’m no worse off than I am now).

On the other hand, if I don’t believe in God, and He actually exists, my punishment is eternal misery; whereas, if I don’t believe in Him, and He doesn’t actually exist, I receive no punishment (i.e., I’m no worse off than I am now).

Pascal concluded that, since the worst possible outcome of believing in God was equivalent to the best possible outcome of not believing in Him (i.e., I’m no worse off than I am now), the prudent thing to do was to believe in God.

Do You Believe that You Are an Addict?

A lot of new quitters question whether or not they’re really addicts. As I said above, I believe that the answer is “yes”. There’s a lot of evidence that over 90% of people who smoke regularly are addicted to nicotine. Of course, this also implies that somewhat less than 10% of people who smoke regularly are not addicted, and there’s a chance that you might be one of those people.

But what if you’re not?

I propose to you that the “quitter’s version” of Pascal’s Wager would go something like this:

Pascal’s Wager, Revisited

If I believe I’m an addict and I really am, acting as if I’m an addict and treating my recovery with the appropriate level of seriousness (i.e., consciously choosing every day not to feed my addiction) will probably save my life; if I believe that I’m an addict and I’m really not, acting as if I’m an addict and treating my recovery with that level of seriousness will do me no harm (i.e., I’ll be no worse off than I am now).

On the other hand, if I don’t believe I’m an addict, and I really am, acting as if I’m not an addict and being careless about my recovery might lead to my early death; whereas, if I don’t believe that I’m an addict, and I’m really not, acting as if I’m not an addict and being careless about my recovery will do me no harm (i.e., I’ll be no worse off than I am now).

Since the worst possible outcome of believing that you are an addict and treating your recovery with an appropriate level of seriousness is equivalent to the best possible outcome of not believing it (i.e., you’re no worse off than you are now), the safe bet is to believe that you are an addict, and treat your recovery with the appropriate level of seriousness.

As the old saying goes, “Better safe than sorry.”

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*