Monday, March 05, 2012
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I recently met up with one of my friends for lunch, and as we sat outside on an unusually warm March day she asked me if she could smoke a cigarette. “But – I thought you quit?!” I managed to stammer out. I honestly don’t understand why people smoke with all the research and studies showing that it leads to painful, debilitating and life-taking diseases such as lung cancer, emphysema and COPD. I don’t want to come off as judgmental, but I’ve seen what smoking can do to a loved one’s health. She told me that she tried quitting cold turkey, but she couldn’t even last a week. I asked her why she didn’t try using ‘the patch,’ gum or other nicotine replacements. She said that after reading a New York Times article (found here), she didn’t think that they were effective.
I read the article and found it a bit misleading. What? Really? I’ve written about their effectiveness before – how could this be? So to help my friend, and get the full story, I spoke to Dr. Andrew Kolodny, Chair of Psychiatry and expert in treating addiction.
Just skimming the headline, “Nicotine Gum and Skin Patch Face New Doubt,” you might also believe that these products don’t work. However, that’s not what the study proves. The study shows that these products make it easier for people to quit, however, they don’t prevent relapse in the long run. “Once a person is addicted to a drug and tries to quit, they are prone to relapse,” Dr. Kolodny explained. “It doesn’t matter if they were slowly detoxed or quit abruptly, they will still be at risk for falling back into the habit.”
The article walks a fine line, but the coverage of the study makes it seem like nicotine replacement therapy isn’t any better than quitting cold turkey. “It’s irresponsible,” said Dr. Kolodny. “Many people who try to quit cold turkey fail and become frustrated. Nicotine patches are one of the most effective methods to help people stop smoking.” He emphasized that how people manage to quit has very little to do with whether or not they relapse. What’s more important is being motivated to quit and learning strategies to help maintain abstinence.
Dr. Kolodny recommends that after using the nicotine replacement therapy of your choice, you need to understand what your triggers for relapse may be. Common triggers include stress as well as other drug use, such alcohol or marijuana. Another tip is to be aware of the people, places and things that may tempt you to relapse (a common pillar of 12 step programs). Have friends that smoke? Tell them you’re trying to quit and ask them to refrain from smoking around you – it may even give them the necessary kick in the pants to quit themselves.
So, instead of our usual coffee date (for her, coffee and cigarettes seem to go hand-in-hand) – we’re going rock climbing. This way we’ll have fun, de-stress, and get some exercise. And perhaps we’ll stop by the pharmacy to check out some nicotine replacements. I’ve heard Nicorette gum has some new flavors – fruit chill and cinnamon surge.