Bringing awareness to the root of addictive behaviors
Smoking cigarettes has been identified by researchers as one of the most difficult addictions to quit. What else could account for the fact that despite the staggering evidence documenting the detrimental effects of cigarette smoking to one’s health—and the rising costs associated with indulging in this bad habit—that individuals persist in their pervasive consumption of tobacco products.
Azadeh Aalai, Ph.D., is a tenure-track, assistant professor of Psychology at Queensborough Community College in New York. She has also served as an associate professor at her alma mater, The George Washington University.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
Just a sliver of the growing evidence documenting the ravages of tobacco use among users (and second-hand effects) include these sobering statistics: one person dies every 6 seconds from a tobacco-related disease, in the U.S. alone over 20% of all deaths are tobacco related, tobacco contains over 4,000 chemicals—many of them carcinogens—and up to 50% of tobacco users will be killed by the product (ASH, n.d.).
Unfortunately, there is often a disconnect between what we know to be true and whether or not our behavior is in alignment with such sobering facts; thus the endless search for an effective way to curb or completely cease smoking behaviors among users. As a facilitator of mindfulness based practices (and as a yogi in my personal life) I began to wonder, would it be possible to use mindfulness practices to help smokers quit?
Promising research from Yale University suggests that by implementing mindfulness practices, smokers can develop skills to help them kick their bad habit over a three-week time span. The program is called Crave to Quit and includes a smartphone app (see Knox, 2015). The program works up to sitting meditation practices, but more generally includes raising awareness for smokers between what is going on in their bodies when they experience cravings for cigarettes and what serves as triggers for their desire to smoke.
Additionally, as one of the lead researchers for the program shares, “associative learning” is also part of the program, which includes becoming conscious of “the link between smoking and some other behavior, such as eating or stress” so that smokers can become aware of environmental triggers or associations that compel them to smoke (Knox, 2015, para 10). Moreover, the program also includes becoming compassionate and releasing self-judgement as one partakes in the process of eliminating their smoking habit.
As fellow PT blogger Wasmer Andrews reports (2012) the medical director of the program uses the acronym RAIN in her clinical practice to help clients cultivate mindfulness regarding their addiction. RAIN stands for “Recognizing the craving, Accepting the moment, Investigating the experience as it builds, and Note what is happening” (para 12). In other words, rather than trying to resist or distract oneself from craving a cigarette, the smoker is challenged to become aware of what is happening in the mind and body when the craving is triggered and to relax into it rather than try to fight it. As Dr. Brewer explains, “…it becomes clear that these [cravings] are nothing more than body sensations. You don’t have to act on them. You can simply ride out the sensations until they subside” (para 13).
In other words, each time the individual does not succumb to the craving, the craving becomes weaker until eventually it no longer gets triggered. Moreover, with each moment of mindfulness, the smoker regains a sense of control and understanding regarding their mind and body, which can be empowering.
The tobacco industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that is directly profiting by exploiting the weaknesses of others and literally gaining money by promoting a product that will eventually kill its users. By applying mindfulness training to quit this nasty habit, users can relinquish the hold these companies have on their behavior and become empowered to restore control over their mind and body.