Former President & CEO, INTEGRIS Health

Is it an addiction?

Published in The Journal Record
July 3, 2019

Last month on the eve of D-Day I told the story of how the U.S. Army addicted my father to cigarettes, supplying him with a carton as he landed on Normandy Beach and fought his way to Germany.  Years later I remember my father smoking two packs a day and the pungent smell of his clothes and the stale small of his breath.  In his late 40’s (for a reason I no longer remember) he quit smoking cold turkey and not only did he rid himself of cigarettes, he started exercising vigorously.  Every day he would run between five and seven miles.  He became razor thin and very fit.

I am aware of other people who have a similar smoking habit just as severe as my father’s who find it impossible to quit.  As a result of decades of smoking they have perpetual medical problems including heart disease, emphysema, and the likelihood of developing lip, throat, and lung cancer.  Despite those concerns and the almost certain knowledge that cigarettes will kill them, they still find it impossible to stop smoking.  In the midst of a health care crisis these people often make a bargain with God that if they can just get through their current emergency, they will quit smoking.  If the good Lord grants them their wish, they generally fail to keep their side of the bargain.

It appears the short-term pleasure of smoking overrides the long-term fear of death.  So, the question is, why can some people quit heavy smoking instantaneously without ever looking back?  In other cased, no matter what the intervention, pleadings of their family, and strong recommendations of their doctor they simply find it impossible to turn away from cigarettes.

We know current science tells us that people addicted to pain medication or alcohol or even gambling, are often not in real control of these urges.  Science tells us these people have a disease, not a character flaw.  Their disease must be treated with intensive therapy addressing any mental health problems they may have, and deeply hidden fears of childhood trauma, or the addiction itself in order to successfully combat their addictive impulses.

It seems to me that people controlled by their impulse to smoke when intellectually they know better perhaps have an addiction as powerful as those consumed by alcoholism or a drug habit.

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