It's fun to go back and reread the evolution of your own personal understanding. My personal quest is primarily fueled by having spent 30 entire years of feeding my addiction without ever once stopping to ask why. It angers me tremendously to think that I'd allowed regular nicotine feedings to take center stage in my life without knowing why. How could that be? Where was I all those years? Why didn't I care to understand by situation. I beg your indulgence as I attempt to make up for lost time.
I just posted the following trigger summary to Matt under another thread but I wanted to put it here too as an update. Together we're learning! Thanks! YQB John : )
Although no one yet knows all the intricate branches, chemical interactions, or cause and effect relationships associated with the brain's nicotine/dopamine dependency cycle, they do know enough to give us a basic picture. The average smoker absorbs between 1 and 2 milligrams of nicotine with each cigarette. After being absorbed, it's distributed to all blood rich tissue throughout the body, including the brain which may be reached in as little as 8 to 10 seconds.
When a cigarette is lit on fire it releases 4,000 chemical compounds - about 500 as gases and 3,500 as particles. The alkaloid nicotine enters the lung as a particle, where it gets rapidly absorbed by alveoli capillaries and is immediately pumped through the heart and up into the brain where it causes the chemical release of new dopamine and, delivers an almost immediate ahhhhhhh feeling, as the dependent smoker's sagging dopamine output is quickly elevated.
In order for the average nicotine addict (the 20 to 40 cigarette-a-day smoker) to keep their blood nicotine at a comfortable level, they'll require an additional 1 to 2 milligrams of nicotine about every 20 to 40 minutes. It is here that the cycle of physical dependence generates a mild anxiety "urge" that begs to be fed. It is here that the passing of time acts as the primary repeating "trigger" that keeps all nicotine addicts coming back for more.
If a dependent smoker refuses to feed the minor anxiety brought on by their basic "time" trigger, the concentration of nicotine within their blood will drop by 50% within 100 to 120 minutes of their last feeding. The effects of actual physical nicotine withdrawal may start being felt. Although it's important to remember that many quitters will experience very minor physical withdrawal symptoms (or maybe none - the educated cake-walk quit), symptoms can range from difficulty concentrating, insomnia, depression, feelings of anger, irritability, frustration, restlessness, anxiety, a foggy mind, sweating palms, chest pain, rapidly cycling emotions, nausea, irrational thinking, emotional outbursts or even the shakes.
These physical withdrawal symptoms normally peak within 72 hours of quitting - the same time that the quitter's blood becomes 100% nicotine free. Although the mind now resides within a nicotine clean body, it can take ten days to two weeks before the body and mind become fully adjusted to living without the physical presence of nicotine, with resulting elevated dopamine levels.
I do want to mention that our brain's dopamine production circuitry is designed to provide a sense of reward (what I call the ahhhhh feeling) after engaging in activities that ensure the survival of man. Take a deep deep breath into the bottom of each lung and then slowly let it out. Do you feel the ahhhhh at the end? When you eat food that tastes good do you feel the ahhhhh sensation? Do you notice it after a great big hug or after sex? Nicotine (and other drugs) have the ability to take our dopamine circuits hostage.
Aside from physical nicotine withdrawal (the addiction portion of recovery), every quitter must also defeat the psychological element of their dependency upon tobacco - the feeding "habits" portion of quitting. In that it is primarily psychological, the quitter has a tremendous amount of control over both the duration and intensity of psychological recovery. Psychological recovery is characterized by a series of short anxiety crave episodes, each lasting less than three minutes.
These craves are triggered and generated when a quitter experiences an emotion, encounters a cue, visits a location or engages in an activity during which they normally would have smoked. The word "trigger," like the trigger on a gun, identifies the event that cases the onset of the brief anxiety attack for a cigarette and nicotine. Although no crave last for more than a few minutes, the anxiety felt during a crave can make time seem to almost stand still, and cause the quitter to falsely believe that it will not end until satisfied with new nicotine. Looking at a clock can aid a quitter in keeping an honest perspective on time.
During the up to two weeks that physical withdrawal may last, psychological habit trigger reconditioning was being encountered as well. Although the number of such attacks varies from quitter to quitter, the average quitter experiences a peak of six craves on day three, falling off to an average of just one per day by the 10th day.
Although most psychological triggers can be traced back to the body's physical need for new nicotine - every thirty minutes or so - they may include such things as having developed a mental expectation or habit of receiving new nicotine when the phone rings, while talking on the phone, driving a vehicle, working, upon waking, before going to bed, when leaving a store or walking outside, when around other smokers, upon hearing a laugh, while drinking, upon hearing ice cubes hit a glass, surrounding romance or following sex, when alone, before meals, after meals, during celebrations, when sad, during stressful situations, during other specific emotions, or upon visiting specific locations (garage, porch, garden, in-laws, bathroom).
Some quitters notice a small crave spike on day seven of their quit as, for the first time, they find reason to celebrate - an entire week of freedom. Almost all of us smoked as part of celebrating. When a crave hits during a celebration it can be alarming. It can be followed by second crave that is associated with memories of having smoked during any celebration that turned sour - like someone special forgetting our birthday.
In that the subconscious mind is not capable of reasoning on its own, it quickly abandons those triggers that fail to produce the expected result. Once a link is broken, each time the same circumstances are encountered without generating a crave only reinforce the positive reconditioning that has occurred. Although we can feel sucker punched when having a crave after having gone a few days or weeks without one, with each passing week our mind's crave generator loses a bit of its punch.
A trigger may be encountered during a period of extremely "high stress" such as tremendous financial strain, serious family illness, injury, or the death of a close friend or loved one. It's a cold hard fact of life that each of us will experience the death of someone we love. It may benefit us later by preparing our mind now to cope with future triggers situations. One approach is to visualize the entire train of natural events associated with a situation, while considering how you'll cope with each.
The vast majority of our triggers are reconditioned and broken by our subconscious mind after just one encounter with the stored memory pattern that acted as the triggering cue. It may be that the particular triggering memory looks much like a previous trigger, but if you keep a trigger log and look very closely, you'll often see the difference. The fascinating part of psychological withdrawal is that even though the mind and body have physically adjusted to normal dopamine output and cycles, the smoker's "habit" conditioning and vast library of stored memories (thousands of previous ahhhhhh feelings) keep telling them that new nicotine is needed. Listening to this false yet forceful suggestion is a primary reason for relapse.
Any quitter who has previously quit for more than two weeks and then relapsed knows that smoking that first cigarette did NOT give them the expected feeling of relief or fulfillment that they normally received while actively dependent. It does produce a dopamine release, but the release does not match the thousands of stored memories of what was normally felt after inhaling new nicotine particles, as the cycle was broken and the brain was no longer in a cycle of perpetual "need." Nothing was missing so there was nothing to replenish. The psychological suggestion of need was false.
The two week (plus) quitter will experience a mouth full of powerful smoke as it strikes newly healed taste buds, a possible cough as 4,000 chemicals are reintroduced to the lungs, and dizzy as the brain's carbon monoxide levels skyrocket. Although a bit disappointed about the experience not matching their expectations, soon their cycle of dependency will be fully reestablished, and their mind's expectations will be fulfilled. Sadly, that first puff not only revived at least one habit trigger (which must now be faced again) it energized millions of fading memories of smoking and brought them all to the surface.
Although many quitters think that the pace of recovery slows following the first couple of weeks, they'd be well advised to measure their true recovery not in the few triggers still being encountered but in the vast number of situations each day that they would have reached for a nicotine fix but didn't. Focus on the healing!
Breathe deep (and feel the ahhhhh), hug hard (and feel the ahhhhh), live long (and enjoy the ahhhhhs). John : )