Closet Fascination

A blog about a journey, smoking, not smoking, vaping and everything in between


psychological addiction

Addiction as Self-Medication

One might reasonably posit that you have a well-established addiction to the Drama of worrying about addiction.
– Vesperae

This quote, a reply to my last post, actually got me thinking of something I have suspected about myself for a long time. I’m not sure I’ll do a good job explaining it, but she is pretty well spot on as far as her assessment goes. Despite my long standing fear of drugs (of any sort) and becoming addicted to them, I somehow usually end up “addicted” to less socially taboo things. I self medicate with food often. If my partner would let me, I would probably be a sex addict. I was reading something on Binge eating- and while I do not binge eat, what I have been doing with smoking is very similar. I found something that said that binge eaters obtain pleasure and stimulation from the rush of planning their binges. I’m sure they don’t get sexual pleasure, but pleasure is pleasure. I get a lot of pleasure from just planning the smoking. Almost more pleasure than I actually get from smoking. But really the planning is a build up of tension from which I get an awesome release when I smoke.

I’ve been self-medicating for years whether it be addiction to TV, internet, running. You name it, I’ve probably done it compulsively. Eventually, I get bored with or decide I want to start something new and start the cycle all over again with something else. Or eventually- my addiction does not provide the same rush it used to, so I have to switch to something else. I guess it is akin to when a drug addict builds tolerance to a drug and has to increase dosage. Well as a psychological addict of things I have to keep things novel or the rush is not there.

The question is: What am I trying to escape? I don’t feel depressed at least I do not think I am. I mean, I feel blah a lot of the time, but nothing like the black holes of my teenage years. One of my more recent theories was of being a potentially undiagnosed case of ADHD… Addictions are something that people with ADHD commonly use to escape their own minds. But it could be something else too… I’ve been living like this for as long as I can remember though. I’m not even sure how I would cope without the constant simulation of something- whether it running, thinking about smoking (since I do that far more than I actually smoke), becoming addicted to certain TV shows or books. I think in a lot of ways, I am trying to escape my own mind because I fear that if I stop doing anything for long enough, I will not like what I see.

I think part of the reason I reacted so strongly to the difference between nicotine-stimulated-me and the absence-of is that I’m not used to feeling that good. I could concentrate (which for me is variable- depending on how much I like the subject) and it doesn’t matter how much I want to concentrate sometimes, I just can’t. Other than that, I just felt good, like I do sometimes, but not all the time.

I have a pretty constant mood though, unlike in my teen years where my moods were so variable. But sometimes I wonder if this is what “normal” feels like sometimes. Maybe it is, but if so, than normal really is not that awesome… it is kind of well- blah. Kind of a heavy post, but sometimes life is like that.


Addiction as Social Construct

Yesterday, when I was reading my super dry book on counseling a thought that has sort of occurred to me before surfaced in my head. I am wondering how much of cigarette addiction is socially constructed. I am not saying that there is no pharmacological aspect to dependance on cigarette or other tobacco products, but that the idea that a cigarette smoker is an “addict” not unlike a heroin addict is a social construction. This paper was my inspiration for this post. It is written by Dr. Claire E. Sterk a professor at  Emory University. The whole paper does an excellent job of demonstrating how our views of drug use are largely determined by societal views of that drug use. 

For example- the way cigarettes are sold almost implies that you will become addicted if you try smoking even once so we might as well give you 20-25 cigarettes to get you on your way. Some PSA’s that run have this implication as well. Like these ones:

Both of these imply if you try smoking, you might as well be attempting suicide because you will become addicted and you will ultimately die from it. A little extreme for a legal substance that does not even cause impairment. Not to mention, how believable is that to teens (the obvious target audience)?

Sterk had this to say about the message we are sending to youth about drugs:

One may wonder why our adolescents and young adults harbor doubts about our health education, especially if they know someone who has used drugs or if they themselves have tried an illegal substance, without immediately becoming an addict.  It appears that more nuanced prevention messages that are grounded in real experience may prove more effective in warning people of the risks associated with use.  Such an approach also would prompt us to raise scientific questions about what it is we aim to prevent.  Do we want to prevent any exposure to drugs?  Do we want to prevent any use?  Are we willing to accept temporary experimental use?  Or, are we worried about escalated use and addiction and its consequences?

In fact, I think it was fear of addiction deterred and terrified me for so many years. When I was 12, I would have these dreams of taking one drag off of a cigarette and being hopelessly addicted. I took one drag off a cigarette and I liked it, but am I a hopeless addict? I’m not even sure I would call myself that if I ever do let go completely and become addicted. Why should I be considered hopeless if I am doing something I like? I can go to a bar or the liquor store and purchase one beer if I know that is all I want, but if I want one cigarette I have buy a whole pack. It seems silly actually. This quote from Sterk’s paper sums the double standard up quite nicely:

Whereas smoking one cigarette is considered too much, unhealthy, and unacceptable, the limits on the extent of alcohol consumption appear more ambiguous.  

A bit ridiculous I think. The reason why cigarettes are not sold in singles or packs of less numerous quantities is to deter people from both trying smoking but also deter people from occasional smoking. At least this is what I assume the function of this is. I can buy one cigar from the store, but not one cigarette. I thought about this more as I walked home from studying. If I were to tell someone- I have a glass of wine every day at dinner, they would probably think/ask- Hmmm likes her wine or do you prefer red or white? Where do you buy your wine? Do you have a favourite varietal of grape etc. If you told someone, I enjoy smoking one cigarette every day after supper or when I get home from work, the question every non-smoker asks is “You smoke so little, why don’t you quit?” No questions on menthol or regular or brands. And if you tell them don’t  want quit because you like it, they probably do not comprehend how something seemingly so nasty to a non-smoker could be enjoyable and further because it is so nasty, you must be addicted and that is why you enjoy it so much and don’t want to quit.

Here is another example: Most adults like coffee. Coffee contains caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant, that eventually can result in dependance. I would also say that like cigarettes, the psychological aspect is probably harder to kick than the physical aspect. I say this having only ever quit caffeine, and not having a physical dependance on nicotine. I actually did not even realize I was dependent on caffeine when one day I was studying in the library, and my head was pounding, I couldn’t concentrate and it occurred to me, maybe I should get some green tea- my caffeine source of choice. I was not getting it for the caffeine though, or at least not consciously. I thought that the act of getting the tea would be a nice break from the studying. Within about 5 minutes, a few sips into the tea, my headache was gone and I could concentrate. I was physically dependent on caffeine. Did I freak out? No. Becoming addicted to caffeine is almost like a right of passage in our society. No one would tell me “Maybe you should quit.” I did quit, although I didn’t find it that hard. The first few days I had a headache and I felt like I was in sort of a daze and always tired. But I didn’t really have any cravings or anything like that because I was not psychologically addicted. I started up the caffeine again because there was really no point in staying away from coffee, tea and chocolate just to say I was caffeine free. I have embraced the caffeinated beverages and would not be surprised if I am indeed dependent.

I mean- there are many ways that drinking a cup of coffee is very unlike smoking a cigarette, but as far as the effects of the drug goes neither impairs someone to the extent that they would harm someone. Smoking is much more harmful health-wise, which is why it has become so outlawed in our health obsessed society.

You know what bugs me more than anything? The fact that I am letting this social construction get in the way of doing something I like doing. Something, I might add, that is perfectly legal. Yet, why do I feel like such a deviant every time I light up?

Darker Still…

With my recent experimentation with smoking, I realized a few things that I had not before.

First, I’m definitely attracted to smoking because of the “badness” factor. By badness I do not just mean image but also the fact that it is bad for you. I had sort of figured this before, but really felt it last night. I’m not sure exactly what made me realize it. Probably because a felt a little phlegmier than usual. There is no way I could isolate that directly to the smoking, but in my mind that is what I thought it was. I noticed during my last cigarette- I actually kind of liked the fact that my hand smelled like smoke. I like how easy (well partially easy at least ;)) it is to do something that is so destructive. Maybe not immediately destructive, but cumulatively. I don’t know it is something that I never truly identified with until just recently.

Another slightly unanticipated effect of smoking more than before (which is still very light- but more than once a week or month) is that there are actually times now when I do not want to smoke. I find this interesting because I do like smoking and I like the effects it has on me and I always thought that the more I did it the more I would want to but this really is not the case. I’ve decided that I don’t want to quit which still seems like a silly thing to say probably because it is like saying- I do not want to quit my 3 or 4 time a week Tim Horton’s steeped tea habit. My smoking, right now, is by no means habitual and I really do have to be in the mood to want to or enjoy it. I’m sure that changes over time, but I guess I was always under the false impression that I would fall really hard for cigarettes and that they would have some sort of death grip on me and I would no longer be able to control myself. This has not been the case. I think part of the reason why I might of thought this is because I had such a psychological drive to smoke before I even started that I thought it would only get worse once I started giving in. So far, not so much. I am both surprised and pleased by this…

Third- I have definite triggers to my smoking. Most of my triggers are sexual, but I have noticed that I also tend to want to smoke more when I am tired/sleepy/cannot concentrate. My mind has obviously made the connection that post-smoking I am more energized, less sleepy and can concentrate better. I noticed this particularly yesterday afternoon when I was particularly tired from lack of sleep. My school work has been keeping me up late. If I had time yesterday afternoon, I think I would have gone for a smoke. I would have been the perfect pick me up to fuel the 5 hours of group work I did after that.

I slept really well last night and have had ample opportunity to smoke and have not really taken advantage. Even though I am a bit sleepy, I guess I just don’t feel like it today. I guess this is an odd feeling considering how much I have obsessed over it. On that note, I will head back to my books.

Chocolate and Cigarettes

As I was reflecting on the craving I had last night, I realized it was not completely unfamiliar. I’ve had very similar cravings for chocolate. Almost identical actually. Just last night, instead of craving chocolate or sweets, I craved a cigarette. The only thing that was different my craving pre- last cigarette was this was the first time I actually had the ability to satisfy the craving. I mean- I had a whole pack of cigarettes that I could have just lit one up and satisfied the craving almost instantly. I can remember times when I have almost run to the grocery store in search of chocolate. In fact, I’m eating some chocolate right now. Really, I should be preparing myself some food because I have not eaten since breakfast. But there is something so sinful about eating chocolate instead of  a regular meal. I know I’ll have to eat something more substantial than chocolate soon, because I’ve been starving since about lunch time. I forgot my lunch at home, along with my wallet so I couldn’t even buy food if I wanted to. It made my last class torture- I mean I all I could think about was food. But I got home and had an idea for a post and instantly my mind went to the chocolate I still have left over from Christmas and suddenly nothing else would do.

I have long professed that I am indeed a chocoholic. I think if someone told me that chocolate was bad for me, I probably ask for another piece. There isn’t much evidence for physical addiction to chocolate- but by golly I definitely have a psychological one. I have something chocolate almost every day. Almost always good quality chocolate- none of this cheap stuff. I don’t even think about it- I just ingest. My mind says- chocolate chocolate chocolate and I go yes- how fast do you want it? Yes- chocolate isn’t necessarily good for you like broccoli and sure- if you consume too much all the time, you put yourself at risk for obesity, diabetes and probably even heart disease. 

What I found interesting when I did my google search is something I read in this article. It said:

Debra Zellner, Ph.D., a psychologist and professor at Shippensburg University, believes women crave chocolate because they have turned it into a nutritional taboo. It tastes wonderful, but it’s sinful because it’s loaded with fat and calories. Women crave chocolate when they are feeling low or before their periods because they have told themselves it is something they cannot have. Zellner conducted a study comparing chocolate cravings in Spanish and American women. She found that Spanish women, who did not see chocolate as a forbidden food, craved chocolate less than American women did. Zellner attributes chocolate cravings entirely to psychological associations and believes the bioactive chemicals found in chocolate occur in too small of amounts to have a neurological impact. 

I find this interesting since that is probably the very reason I crave cigarettes, at least on a psychological level, combined with the knowledge of the pleasure I will get. I see it as forbidden- even now after purchasing a pack and smoking one. I also feel the power smoking has over me already and I’m a little frightened to submit like I have with chocolate. I guess I haven’t completely submit with chocolate- but I haven’t cut it out of my life. I mean there is a reason I only have minimal amounts of chocolate in the house at a time. If I’ve got the chocolate, I eat it and I eat it all.

I guess what I am not familiar with is overcoming the craving- it feels good to give in yes, but it also felt very good to beat the craving like I did last night. Maybe what I want to do, only smoke occasionally, might not be something I can do. Maybe my drive to smoke will overcome me and I’ll say screw it and come out to the world. I could stop now and not risk becoming physically addicted but I know I will hopelessly crave smoking psychologically as I have for the many years before ever even trying it. I’ve decided that it is worth the risk of because life if too short to keep denying myself.

Completely Normal and yet not…

So after much contemplation, I broke down and decided I was going to smoke. I told my roommate that I was going out to buy groceries and then maybe to go read at a coffee shop since I could not concentrate at home, which is partially true. I never did come back with the groceries though. I grabbed an extra jacket (because I didn’t want my everyday one to smell like smoke) and hopped into my car. I drove past quite a few places I could have purchased cigarettes and decided on the gas station I always buy gas at on my way out of the city. The clerk ID’d me and seemed almost as nervous about the prospect of me buying cigarettes as I was. He didn’t really know what brand I was looking for (I had to direct him to it). I decided on Benson and Hedges Menthols- 100s of course. I decided that as easy as the Matinees are to smoke, I really hated not seeing anything come out (or hardly anything) and I wanted the full visual affect since being outside makes the smoke clouds less pretty anyways. Plus- I wanted this time to be good since I do not know when the next time I will get to do this will come.

After making my purchase, I drove around in the neighborhood near where I bought the cigarettes. I was looking for a small park, with a bench. Somewhere where I could quietly sit and enjoy my cigarette without much traffic. I found one or at least I thought I had. I parked my car and as I walked toward the place I picked when I realized it was actually a cemetery. So I decided that was a little inappropriate but found a suitable location near by. It was a nice little bench atthe top of the hill away from the street. I walked up and brushed off the snow from the bench and sat down. I took out my cigarettes put one in my mouth and lit up as if it were something I did all the time. It felt surprisingly natural. I guess when you fantasize and dream about something so much it shouldn’t be so surprising that it would feel completely normal. I didn’t feel anything for the first few puffs. I think I was kind of in a state of disbelief that I was doing something I had literally craved doing for months, maybe even years. I wasn’t necessarily craving it tonight, but I wanted to do it.

By about third puff I started to feel a wave of calmness wash over me. All the anxiety that I had experienced from purchasing the cigarettes washed away. I felt at peace. For the first time in months my brain was not telling me or thinking, “I want a cigarette”- because I was having one. It was such an odd experience. It was both completely normal and yet not at the same time. What also surprised me was the ease at which I smoked the entire thing. I kept testing myself with longer drags, deeper inhales and I was impressed that I almost smoked the cigarette to the filter. I think it was the first cigarette I’ve smoked where I’ve felt like I looked like a smoker and something about that pleased me. I think it took me about fifteen minutes to smoke the whole thing and I did feel a bit light headed by the end- but not so much so that I couldn’t drive (or felt like wretching). I decided that I probably shouldn’t go home right away since the smell would be pretty fresh on my pants and hands and I wanted to just go and sit somewhere.

I pulled into the Tim Hortons and ordered a meal. I figured I should eat since I hadn’t in a long time. That is where I noticed the appetite suppressing effect of nicotine. I wasn’t really that hungry, even though I knew I should be. I sat and ate my meal and read my textbook. Another side effect- I was actually able to concentrate on my reading. I sat there for about an hour reading- not really thinking about anything else (except for the occasional- wow my mind has not wandered thought). There were some negatives- my food didn’t taste as good. And I felt really cold after, probably because my circulation is so shitty in the first place. This could also be because I had to sit outside in the cold for 15 minutes to smoke the cigarette, but I have a feeling it is partially due to the effect of nicotine on the circulatory system. All reasons I still don’t want to smoke regularly- since I really like tasting my food, not smelling like smoke and do not really like feeling colder than I normally do. This was like a full body cold whereas my extremities are usually the only thing that is cold. My resting heart rate staying high for many hours after- I think it was still much higher than usual before I went to bed so I could not deny to myself the negative effects it has on my health, even after just one.

I do not regret doing it. I think what made this time different is that I was fully aware of what I was doing and what it meant to me. Also, I think it confirmed that I do have a psychological addiction or fixation on smoking based on the relief I felt after I did it. The relief was purely psychological since I am not physically addicted. Another thing I noticed is that even though I picked a relatively secluded location- it didn’t bother me as much when people walked by. I know that the first few times I tried smoking I was almost mortified at the thought of someone catching me, even if it was someone I didn’t know. A guy ran right by me and I really didn’t think anything of it. The only thing I thought, and here is the non-smoker runner coming out in me, I’m sorry he has to smell my smoke as he runs. I did not feel bad about it, only I could see myself in his shoes, huffing and puffing running up the hill, cursing the person who is smoking. Only- if I were the person running, I’d probably be slightly jealous in a similar situation.

As for whether I will do it again- I think there is no question in my mind that I will. That is another thing that is different about this time. Previous attempts I quelled my fears by telling myself I would just have one or a few and that is it. This time I am fully aware of the power smoking, the act, my psychological drive to do it, has on me that I know I’m not going to have just one. Having them handy means I will not have to spend time planning to buy them, which was often how I spent much of my time. Having my own cigarettes means I will not have to worry, as I did before, about the next time I smoke since it can be whenever I choose. The only thing I will have to worry about as MisterT alluded to before is my cigarettes going stale before I’ve had a chance to smoke them all.

Blog at

Up ↑