Is Professional Help Really Helpful?

I ran across an article today on Psychiatry Online (see excerpt below) that suggests that the reason why many smokers fail to quit is that they don’t get professional help.

Personally, I think this is nonsense; I’ve never met a doctor yet who had anything useful to offer in terms of advice about how to quit smoking: most doctors have never been smokers (so they have no relevant personal experience to share), and most doctors get no real training in medical school on how to deal with addiction.

Take Two and Don’t Call Me in the Morning

So it’s virtually guaranteed that the extent of the “professional help” you’ll get from your doctor is a prescription for one of the new quit-smoking wonder drugs and their best wishes for your success. Unless they also advise you to use “nicotine replacement therapy” in combination with the wonder drug (or, if your medical plan won’t cover the wonder drug — which many won’t — they’ll probably just advise you to grab a box of nicotine patches from the drug store and send you on your way).

This is Almost Funny

(I saw an article just a couple of days ago on a well-regarded health-related blog that was co-authored by a famous TV doctor — I won’t mention his name, but there’s a famous movie about a wizard who lives in a land with the same last name. The article was titled, “How to Quit Smoking Tobacco – Use Nicotine Patch“, and had this description, “If you’re wondering how to quit smoking tobacco, use these five steps to help you steer clear of nicotine and start living healthier.

Do these people have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? Use a nicotine patch to help you steer clear of nicotine?!? Would they advise alcoholics to use alcohol injections to help them steer clear of drinking?

Now, to be fair, there was some sensible advice in the actual column, but the fact is that doctors — even famous TV doctors — are mostly just parroting the conventional wisdom with no useful, real-world idea of how to help anyone successfully quit smoking.)

Oh, Yeah, The Excerpt I Promised…

Here’s the excerpt from the article I mentioned at the top of this post:

American smokers want to kick the habit, but they do not seem to be getting the help they need from their health care professionals.

Most smokers want to quit smoking, and more than half have tried to quit in the prior year. But those who are trying to quit aren’t receiving the help and support they need.

According to a report in the November 11, 2011, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 68.8 percent of current cigarette smokers said they would like to stop smoking completely, and 52.4 percent had tried to quit smoking in the preceding year. But 68.3 percent of the smokers who tried to quit did so without using evidence-based cessation counseling or medications, and only 48.3 percent of those who had visited a health care professional in the prior year reported receiving advice on how to quit smoking.

My Two Cents

If you want my advice, steer clear of the conventional wisdom and take responsibility for your own choices and your own recovery. There are no magic bullets. And if you want support, look for help from somebody who’s been there, who’s come back to tell the tale, and who’s actually helped people quit and stay quit for the long haul.

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