Will a 12-Step Program Help Me Give Up Smoking?

Have you thought about joining a 12-Step group, like NA (Nicotine Anonymous)? Do you think something like that might help you quit and stay quit long-term? It’s possible that it might, but if you do your research, you’ll find that programs like NA (and the original 12-Step program, Alcoholics Anonymous) post about a 5% success rate over time (other people will interpret the numbers differently; I encourage you to do your own research and draw your own conclusions).

But what does this actually mean? As it turns out, not much: numerous studies have shown that the number of alcoholics and other drug addicts (like us nicotine addicts) who just quit on their own, with no plan, program, or intervention of any kind (known in the scientific literature as the “spontaneous remission rate”) is around 5%. So, if a 12-Step program like NA has a 5% success rate, and smokers in the general population spontaneously quit at about the same rate, what does that say about NA?

It’s 9 Steps Too Many

I would personally recommend that you not bother with NA (or, for that matter, any other 12-Step program derived from AA): any so-called addiction recovery program that encourages its participants to deny their personal responsibility for their addiction and recovery (as these programs do; see the first 3 Steps of any of them) is bound to be a relapse factory (as these programs generally are. But again, don’t take my word for it; do your own research and draw your own conclusions).

The Only 3 Steps You Really Need

Here’s the only surefire way to get free and stay that way:

First of all, realize that you, and you alone, are responsible for putting yourself in this situation, and that you, and you alone, are responsible for dealing with it, both now and in the future. Nobody else can do it for you.

Secondly, realize that it’s your responsibility to choose whether you’re going to feed your addiction or not, each and every time you get the urge to do so, and it’s you that’s going to have to live with the consequences of those choices. Understand that there’s no such thing as an irresistible urge; if you want to stay free, you have to make the deliberate conscious choice not to feed your urges whenever they arise.

Those 2 Steps Will Get You Free…

If you follow those first two steps, eventually the urges get less frequent and less intense, until they happen so rarely and are so weak that you can forget that you’re an addict. This is where a lot of people fall: they think that they’ve been abstinent for so long that now they can control their addiction.

But we can’t; that’s just the nature of addiction: if we could control our use of a given substance, whether it be alcohol or nicotine or some other addictive drug, then — by definition — we wouldn’t be addicts.

But Here’s What Will Keep You Free

Which leads to the third and final step:

Never forget that you’re an addict and that you can’t afford to feed that addiction even one time. It won’t be a struggle forever (although it can be a challenge in the early days), but you have to stay aware.

Here’s Why:

One day, almost 6 years into this quit (I know this because I posted about this on my quit-smoking support boards at the time), I spontaneously had this thought, “After I finish this, I think I’ll step out onto the back deck, have a smoke and enjoy the afternoon a bit.”

My first reaction to that thought was, “Isn’t that interesting? I haven’t had a cigarette in nearly 6 years, and out of the blue, here comes this thought, sounding as normal as can be, like I never stopped. Of course, I don’t smoke any more, so I won’t be stepping out onto the back deck for a cigarette after I finish this.”

Addiction is Sneaky

But there it was: an unconscious urge to feed my addiction — cleverly disguised as a passing thought of doing something I might normally do — nearly 6 years after I stopped doing that thing.

That’s why it’s so important to remind yourself, early and often, that you’re an addict, and that you can’t afford to feed your addiction even a single time. That’s why it’s so important that you train yourself to choose not to smoke in response to every single urge. Otherwise, when the urge presents itself this way, as a passing thought in an unguarded moment, you may act on it without even thinking about it.

A Poem for You

One of the best pieces of writing on addiction I’ve ever seen was this poem, written by a member of my quit-smoking support community:

I am addiction.
I am deeper than the seven seas.
Like the oceans, I retreat and I return.
You may reject me, but you cannot kill me.
You may defeat me, but I will not be gone.
I am addiction.
I will weaken, but I will not die.

– from a nonsmoker named Ben

Take it to heart.

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