Moment of resolve
August 11, 2011 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Did you quit a bad or unhealthy behavior? How did you do this? My grandfather smoked for years and then one day he just stopped. I hear about some people who have been terrible drunks and one day just quit - and never had another drink. How do they do this? Is it after the last drink or before the next one? Is there a moment when you just say "I'm not doing this anymore" and that's it?

I've known many addicts throughout my life but not many who have quit or outlived their addiction. Can you rec any good books or stories about people overcoming their addictions.
posted by mokeydraws to Health & Fitness (44 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
My Dad did this with smoking. For him, his habit had been escalating for some time before he quit, going from two packs a day to cigarillos because he couldn't get enough of a nicotine fix. Then, one day, he quit cold turkey. It mystified my mother, who also smoked and who went the more traditional route of struggling to quit.

In Dad's case, he'd just decided he'd had enough of the habit - knowing him, he did a calculation that went along the lines of "benefits of smoking"< "drawbacks of smoking" and made what was for him, a rational choice. If he suffered withdrawal, he never let on to anybody.

My Mother, on the other hand, was emotionally invested in smoking, for all the normal reasons: it was perceived as cool, it kept her weight down, it was what everyone did, it was a social activity, etc. Quitting meant giving up the emotional and psychological attachment to "cool", "thin" and "belonging" as she perceived them to relate to smoking. And that was, in some ways, as hard as the actual chemical addiction.

Dad never gave two shits what others thought of him, so that aspect didn't apply in his calculations.
posted by LN at 11:04 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

In my experience, the decision to quit is a long time coming. Humans aren't (just) animals, and they are intellectually aware they aren't making a rational decision and that it isn't healthy. Eventually the resolve to regain control builds and the attempt to stop is made.

It's never a sudden one day thing, in that the difficulty in staying quit is something you usually have to deal with for the rest of your life. Most of the people who just stop one day end up relapsing multiple times.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:04 AM on August 11, 2011

In the last year, I have quit: smoking, drinking, caffeine and, uh, miscellaneous other substances. The first and the last were the hardest. The caffeine, surprisingly, was the easiest. Smoking was the only one that took extra help: the patch. There were a few relapses, but it's been months now -- months of occasional cravings and turning this stuff down at parties -- but I'm riding clean.

In my experience, if you're having a "last one," it's not going to be the last one. You quit then and there. You'll relapse, probably, but that "just one more" mentality never really worked for me or anyone I know.
posted by griphus at 11:08 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

My New Year's Resolution for 2010 was I was going to eat better and exercise. I've since lost 150 lbs. YMMV

I will say, I made this resolution several times, and failed at it. The key was that I learned from the failures what I did wrong and tried to correct that.
posted by I am the Walrus at 11:09 AM on August 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

furiousxgeorge is right that the difficulty is in staying quit. I still have serious food issues, and I acknowledge that I probably will for the rest of my life.
posted by I am the Walrus at 11:11 AM on August 11, 2011

My father did this: he was a 3-1/2 to 4-pack-a-day smokerfor a long time, then when the Surgeon General's report came out back in the '60s, he quit cold turkey: just trashed all cigarettes on hand, and literally never smoked again. Of course, he had the strongest will-power of anyone I've ever known, plus he was one big pain in the butt especially the first few months...... I asked him about it years later: he said that, nearly 40 years later, he still had (rare) cravings, but mostly it'd faded away within the first 5-10 years.
posted by easily confused at 11:15 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I quit smoking dead a few years back after being really good at smoking for 20-some years.

I had tried to quit multiple times before but this time slowly the feeling of being a weak idiot for continuing got stronger and stronger. Then I saw my baby niece and I felt sick for smoking. Then I flew home and bought a pack of cigarettes, lit one, thought, "what the hell am i doing?" stubbed it out, rinsed the pack under the tap and threw them in the trash and that was that.

That was 3 years ago and I rarely even get cravings any more.

I guess the process of "just stopping" is pretty similar for most people. A lot of stuff going on under the surface until the decision gets made.
posted by merocet at 11:19 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Jim Carroll's sequel to "The Basketball Diaries", Forced Entries, shows him before and after quitting heroin (for good, IIRC). He doesn't describe the actual detox process all that much (I think he went to a methadone clinic), but does reflect on how he feels about the whole process.

Data point: for most of my life, I picked at my cuticles. Most of the time, they looked awful, cracked and bleeding; I struggled to stay away from them, but it never worked. Then one day a cute guy at work said "oh no, what happened? Do you have a skin condition?" And I stopped picking them that day, and have never touched them since. YMMV.
posted by Melismata at 11:21 AM on August 11, 2011

My father gave up smoking and drinking at the same time. He smoked heavily for about 20-25 yrs and was in the military at the time so it was very common practice. He also drank quite a bit as well, though not sure if I would say he was an alcoholic. He had a heart attack when he was about 42 and gave up both cold turkey. He always said he could not have quit only one because drinking at the bar also involved smoking while playing darts or pool. I vaguely remember what he was like during the quiting process but he must of gone through hell.

A few years ago asked him what it was like and he replied that it didn't matter, he just had to quit.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 11:25 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I quit smoking ten years ago, all of a sudden, out of the blue...on the 7481st try.
posted by Carlo at 11:28 AM on August 11, 2011 [8 favorites]

My grandfather smoked, but he was also big into gambling (and was an alcoholic, but he never quit booze). One day his buddies and him decided to bet on who could quit smoking, and he won, because winning that bet was more important to him than smoking. My (now) husband quit smoking because he wanted to date me. So in both cases, it came down to a choice between smoking and something else that was perceived to be more valuable.
posted by Safiya at 11:31 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I quit smoking 10+ years ago in my 30s after smoking since my teens. It was relatively easy to cut back a lot, but it took a change in routine to be able to do it cold turkey, so I did it on vacation and replaced cigarettes with other things when I got back to my routine (e.g., I still go out at regular intervals at work, only now I walk around the block instead of standing with a cigarette).

Even a decade out I am very careful to avoid places where people are smoking. I know that if I have one cigarette I will be a smoker again. Lately life has been incredibly stressful and I have thought about it more than once.
posted by headnsouth at 11:31 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, as far as what helped me quit? I knew I could. From the day I had my first cigarette at 15 -- and every time the subject came up in my head, thereafter -- I knew for a fact that if I ever needed to stop, forever, I could do it, no questions asked. It would be an enormous pain in the ass and there would be some fuckups along the way, but I had complete confidence in myself, I think the idea that I would disappoint my own ego helped more than any promises of fresher breath and cleaner lungs.
posted by griphus at 11:34 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been able to quit a lot of stuff after using daily for [long enough]. But I've never said I quit it. Not because I believe in the whole "once you've become addicted, you're an addict forever" belief than many who go through 12-step subscribe, but because I never said to myself "I'll NEVER do this again."

So somehow, knowing in the back of my mind, I could go get substance X or Y if I wanted to do it made it easier to stop. I was never saying 'goodbye' all the way. But in doing so, I was able to recognize that I'm making a choice not to do it because of the consequences and move on.

It's complicated, and it's certainly a track that wouldn't/doesn't work for a lot of people. But it's the only thing that ever would have worked for me.

Oddly -- or perhaps not -- this is why smoking has been much harder for me to quit than other more "extreme", things -- the consequences aren't as noticeable.

posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:37 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

My mom quit smoking pretty much cold turkey after my brother and I had both left for university. She has the odd cigarillo here and there but she hasn't smoked for nearly 10 years now.
posted by pised at 11:56 AM on August 11, 2011

people are all different.

addicts, as in, people who were addicts at their first drink, first drag, first hit - the ones that were gonna be addicts no matter what, i'm betting a lot less of those people quit cold turkey just one day because they had an inkling.

i think your other types - your habit formers - the people who can socially drink for 20 years without it ever escalating. those people can put down their habits a lot easier - then it's just the physical addiction - the substance didn't get in and complete part of their brain chemistry, so it's not as big of a deal to quit.

i think most people fall somewhere in the middle, but i'd put most of the cold turkey quitters i've known closer to the second than the first.
posted by nadawi at 11:59 AM on August 11, 2011

What helped me quit cold turkey is that I finally didn't like it anymore. As long as it tasted good, made me feel good, emotionally and physically, I wasn't interested in quitting. But the first drag I took off a cigarette that tasted gross? The first cigarette that was a maintenance cigarette instead of something fun to do? That was the wake-up call. And a few days later I had my last cigarette.

I believe I was addicted, and all the addicts I've known who have successfully cleaned up, have to want to quit. Not, "I should", or "I know it's healthier", or "I'd have a better relationship if I quit" but "I want to quit. For myself and myself alone."

Also: Just because you can't quit something cold-turkey doesn't mean you aren't trying hard enough or anything. Different strokes for different folks, right? Even attempting to quit a bad habit is pretty badass.

And I definitely mentally placated myself by taking the MCMikeNamara approach, telling myself that if I changed my mind I could always go back. I just threw out my unsmoked backup pack last week, after a year of not smoking, because I finally felt that I didn't need that crutch to help me stay an ex-smoker anymore.
posted by stellaluna at 12:05 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

After 15 years of smoking, and part of this smoking on the sly, I concluded that the continuing costs (in all categories) outweighed the minor benefits. Quitting was pretty instant, once the decision was made.

Drinking, kind of a more convoluted path. For one thing, there are purported benefits. However, there are easily quantified costs. Again, economics won the day as I concluded that the costs (for me) enormously outweighed the benefits (sic). I quit, basically in one second. My particular style of drinking was excessive, but intermittent. To be fair, perhaps this is somewhat easier than it might be for a current friend of mine whose drinking is chronic, but seemingly very low (non-zero) social cost to him, but a clearly evident deferred cost in terms of health effects, which are evident to all around him. I don't see his habit as tenable over a 20 year time frame.

I haven't much quit anything else, mostly because I haven't much started anything else. From time to time, I fast from caffeine, sugar, or specific dietary elements, and find it pretty simple. For me, the secret is recognizing that most drives are from the lizard brain and most decisions are from the neocortex, where reason lives and which goes to sleep immediately when slightly soaked in alcohol. It's much, much harder for clear decision making to occur when the decision making apparatus has been taken off line. So to stop something, I basically decide to stop it and then stick to my decision by not re-asking the question every time I think about it.

I do suspect that problem drinking, for most folks, is a decision, not a disease. Alcoholism, on the other hand, seems to be a disability. Perhaps even it is transient and due to general saturation of the corpus, but it's clearly self-limiting. It's a declining path to death, basically. Problem drinkers seem unable to recognize this, and the distant and uncertain nature of the future is the shield that makes willful ignorance an ally. Looking in the mirror, seeing the degradation of the body, failing to recognize the social costs, ignoring the blood chemistry, not admitting to the corruption of relationships, preferring drunken solitude over sober community, discounting career stagnation, and in extreme cases, not accepting responsibility for disaster, all are evidence that there's a problem present. Adults can see it and act in an adult fashion. Drunks simply cannot, and act in a lizard-brained, adolescent, me-me-me manner.
posted by FauxScot at 12:14 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

My grandfather quit smoking cold turkey, after being hospitalized with emphysema and having half a lung removed, primarily using his famous stubbornness. He kept one cigarette in his front pocket, and when he wanted one, he'd look at it and say "Who's stronger? Me stronger or you stronger?" (in his tough guy Italianese). So, to me, it seems like he didn't quit smoking as a habit in a broad sweeping gesture, he resisted it every time he needed. I try to look at midnight ice cream binges the same way, but I am so, so weak.

The Happiness Project had a great post "Are You a Moderator or an Abstainer, When Trying to Give Something Up?" (and my, aren't those delicious-looking cookies pictured!) and I have to agree with it wholeheartedly (see what I did there?). There are some people that can manage little, infrequent indulgences and some whose internal dithering goes into hyper-drive and so it's better just to have a 100% rule.

Over a decade ago I followed a strict eating plan (mostly food combining) and lost 35 lbs. and felt amazingly healthy - rules posted on the fridge, a supportive partner - then, I proceeded to its flexible "Level 2" after reaching my goal. I've been on "Level 2" for a decade, and am forty pounds heavier. So, I think there's a moment, not when you say "I'm going to do this!", but when you say "This is the kind of person I am, and this is what I have to do, because of who I am, to achieve what I need."
posted by peagood at 12:14 PM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

Yes, people are all different. I don't think it's really useful to sort them into two groups, or even to place them on some kind of a spectrum. People trying to stop doing something need to find what works for them. Maybe a psychologist could say what that is likely to be after interviewing the person; I couldn't.

I tried "cutting down" on cigarettes a couple of times, but it felt like I was just prolonging the agony, so one day I quit. It was pretty awful, which was my big incentive for not starting up again - I don't ever want to go through that again. I dreamed about smoking for years after, and very often in the dream, I would think, "Hey, I don't smoke! What's going on?" On preview, yes, smoking wasn't pleasurable for me any more, and I really wanted to stop. I was going to some fairly extreme lengths to keep smoking by then - rolling my own because I couldn't afford ready-made smokes, that sort of thing.

My brother is a serial (smoking) quitter. He doesn't seem to have a lot of trouble stopping, and he will stay away from cigarettes for years, then start smoking again.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:19 PM on August 11, 2011

A good book about this from the vantage of psychological research is Prochaska, Norcross and Diclemente's Changing for Good. From the cover, it looks like just another pop-psych self-help book, but it's really a solid work based on serious study of behavioral change, in particular looking at the stages of readiness to change and the change process. A lot of their examples are drawn from work with addicts of various kinds.
posted by Kat Allison at 12:22 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

here is one approach: Rational Recovery's Addictive Voice Recognition Technique and, to answer your actual question, some reactions to it.
posted by mrmarley at 12:42 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I quit smoking almost 3 years ago, and I quit caffeine about a month ago. Both happened after long, protracted periods of quitting-and-then-starting-again.

For smoking, what finally did it was reading The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. An incredible book; I cannot recommend it enough. The writer, Alan Carr apparently wrote a bunch of other books about quitting various things. One thing I thought was helpful about his method is that he tells you not to quit until you're done reading his book, which explains what nicotine addiction does to you and why it's addictive. So you're reading about how terrible cigarettes are, meanwhile, you're going out for cigarettes. And you think to yourself, "damn, I can't wait till I can quit." And when you do quit, you're supposed to quit cold turkey. He actually gives a very cogent explanation for why cold turkey is the best way to go for quitting smoking, and I can't help but agree.

On the contrary, what helped with caffeine was slowly weaning myself off it. I went from drip coffee to americano, from americano to a half an americano, from half an americano to half a can of diet soda, from half a can of diet soda to a quarter can. And then I took a two week vacation from work, during which I gave it up entirely, and that finally clinched it (since I always drank in the morning).
posted by Afroblanco at 1:44 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I quit smoking over 10 years ago solely to spite someone who smugly told me I would never be able to quit (they had just quit themselves), and I have never had a single smoke since, nor have I had the desire for one. That person started up again less than a month later and has never been able to quit since.

In conclusion, for me, the mighty powers of spite and being right and lording it over someone is far more powerful than any addiction.

Yes, I am kind of a jerk.
posted by elizardbits at 1:49 PM on August 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

This doesn't rise to the level of smoking/drinking, but I bit my nails my whole life. (I'm 50). About six weeks ago I decided to do the thing where you put a bandaid on your finger to keep from biting that one finger, then gradually use more bandaids.

Thing is, that one bandaid fell off after two days, but it while it was there it was a good visual reminder not to bite, and after two days I just somehow kept it going out of momentum I guess. Not to be reddity, but I kind of did it "For Science!" because I've always heard it takes six weeks to break a habit. Today is actually six weeks, and I have little to no inclination to bite my nails anymore. Go figure.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:57 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

How do they do this?

The ancients had a word called akrasia. Basically, the word grapples with the fact that often times, we do not feel that we can do what we know factually to be in our best interest. For example, we smoke although we know we will likely have health problems. Same with overeating, infidelity, and a number of other vices. We don't do them because we think they are necessarily better than the alternative. We simply feel weak in our wills to do otherwise. The question is, why do we do that? Philosophers, theologians, and pretty much everyone, have been grappling with that question for awhile.

This isn't a complete answer to the question, but I have come to think that we often grapple with competing beliefs in life, and the one that gives us the quickest and most instant gratification often wins out. For example, I believe that I should not overeat, but I also believe that I have a need to be emotionally assuaged by this chocolate cake. Which belief/need wins out? It's like Sophie's choice, and the cake often wins out if it can make the struggle stop, at least for the moment.

However. We often have events that make some beliefs hit a bit closer to home and move them up on the priority scale. I too often choose the chocolate cake, instead of choosing the healthier life. Except right after I've had a heart attack. I choose smoking until I finally feel like total crap that one time getting out of bed, get the bad x-ray, or have a friend that died. Many of these come-to-Jesus moments can switch our value system that provides weight to other sides of our belief struggle.

The trick, I think, is finding out what in life can trigger those heart attack moments without actually having the heart attack. Sometimes it's a lot of thinking, studying, internal reflection, and simply hard practice to develop habits such that we prefer something like a healthier life, for its immediate and inherent value, to eating poorly. But this is hard, and it is a struggle, and sometimes people are (I dare to say) blessed with warning signs of imminent danger that can help get our attention before the bad thing happens. Who knows what those warnings always are. But the struggle between competing beliefs regarding one's immediate needs in life is a significant part of the human condition, I think.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:00 PM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

223 days ago, on New Year's Eve, I walked into a hospital emergency room. I did not know that the cigarette I had had a few hours prior would be my last one. Fast forward 10 days of being in and out of the hospital, in and out of neuro ICU, and $90,000 later, I no longer smoke.

The first two weeks were easy. I was too sick to notice any withdrawal symptoms. Once I got out of the hospital, it became a daily struggle, but the cravings slowly became urges, which then died down to minor twinges. I have a twin sister who quit 8 years ago. Once in a while, she can pick up a cigarette, enjoy it, and not have one for another 13 months. I can't do that. I don't trust myself to do that. Not yet.

I do not suggest the above method. But I really don't know how I would have quit smoking otherwise. The truth is, I'm lucky to be alive, and I'm going to take advantage of that.
posted by HeyAllie at 2:02 PM on August 11, 2011

Not sure how much this helps, but George W. Bush is probably one of the most famous examples of someone who (per himself) just decided to quit drinking -- after he got a hangover following his 40th birthday party. This led to some discussion of what it means to be a "dry drunk" in political terms.
posted by dhartung at 2:08 PM on August 11, 2011

My father quit smoking about 50 years ago after reading a magazine article about the dangers of smoking (not widely known at that time). My brother had just been born, so he quit to protect his new son. I'm not sure if he quit cold turkey or not, but I know he chewed gum (which he was then hooked on for years!) and sucked on mints.

My boyfriend had a come-to-Jesus moment that got him to quit smoking: he had a stroke at 40. He decided in the hospital that his choice was keep smoking and die or stop smoking and live, so he quit.

Now the interesting thing to me is that my father had cravings for YEARS after quitting and tells a story of tearing the house apart looking for a cigarette when my sister was sick (this would have been at least 3 years later). My honey says he never had serious cravings--he just knew he had to quit and that was it (though he had tried to quit a few times before and hadn't been able to do it). So I'm thinking that my father was a real addict, maybe my boyfriend wasn't.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 2:39 PM on August 11, 2011

Our story sounds terribly "Gift of the Magi"-ish, but it is truly the way Mr. Adams and I quit smoking. It was December 1996 and we were having a very rough time of things financially. I was about a pack a day smoker, Mr. A more like a pack-and-a-half, sometimes two. We were sitting in the living room one evening and admitting to one another that we didn't really have any spare cash for Christmas presents that year for either ourselves or anyone else. Mr. Adams, who had been talking about quitting for a while, came up with the idea "What if we both quit smoking as a Christmas present to each other?" He noted that we'd be healthier and hopefully have a longer lifetime together, and that we'd also save some badly needed money since smokes were approaching $3 a pack at the time. I hadn't been smoking as long as Mr. A and hadn't thought one way or the other about quitting, but I agreed since it was the only gift we had to give each other at that time. We agreed that our current open packs would be our last. He got a bunch of Nicorette sample packs from our doctor (it was prescription-only at the time, and we didn't have Rx insurance) but only ended up using two pieces due to the vile flavor. He switched to butterscotch lozenges and went through a bag a day for three days, but by the fourth day his cigarette cravings relented quite a bit. Me, I just went cold turkey with no oral substitute (I only had really strong cravings when I worked on the computer at home at night (we hosted online games on AOL at the time and I was very used to smoking during those two hours). Anyway, we both kept our vow and have not smoked since that day in December 1996.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:59 PM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

When I was in 1st grade, our class had some sort of anti-smoking presentation and the teacher explained how it caused lung cancer. I came home from school hysterically crying to my mom, "I don't want you to die of cancer!" She quit that day.
posted by Hop123 at 4:54 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

There was a Radiolab episode about this! Basically, this lady swore to her friend that if she ever smoked again, she'd donate a pre-specified big chunk of money to the KKK. The horror of funding the KKK motivated her, and her friend knowing about the whole thing kept her feeling accountable. It worked!

If you want to do what she did, Stickk is actually a website that will hold your money in escrow for you and donate it as you've instructed if you fail. Absolutely brilliant.

(I was so excited when I saw your question! I love this story and technique and I love any/every excuse to share it!)
posted by Eshkol at 5:35 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Every time I have successfully dumped a trip it was under the following scenario:

any experience is attractive to somebody.

For example. Nicotine withdrawal. Smithkline pharmaceutical can manufacture a drug to simulate nicotine withdrawal. You take the pill. You feel the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

Somebody on this planet is going to think that is just the greatest damn sensation ever and would even pay black market prices for the Smithkiline simulated nicotine withdrawal experience. The agitations. The skin crawling. The anxiousness. The short temper. All of it.

Pretend you are them for a week or two weeks or three weeks or four or however long.

And then you are done.

The other strategy which I consider attractive (I have not tried this one) is the William James strategy (from his Principles of Psychology): in order to stop drinking a man needs to want to stop being a drunk.

This is a specific instance of what I consider more generally the Ebeneezer Scrooge Christmas Carol Scenario. The ghost of Christmas visits you in a sober moment of reflection and shows you what your habits will ultimately lead unto and you reject that as horrifying. A Christmas Carol is a very very beautiful story. Every time I read it I love everybody and everything.
posted by bukvich at 9:43 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

My SO joyously smoked about a pack a day from 17-34. He quit because he woke up one morning and felt "weird." Poof. Cold turkey. Holy shit. He took a drag or two a few weeks later, which just confirmed that feh, no interest, he was done.

I was a much less heavy smoker, and hadn't planned on truly quitting. I had cut down to one smoke a day or fewer. But a chronic sinus infection (from other sinus issues) that put me through many, many, many rounds of antibiotics and prednisone for months brought me to the same moment of "feh, I'm done."

It's weird. It's been just a few years and the smoking is like a dream now. Or like a very, very long ago memory. I don't have the slightest bit of embarrassment or regret over how much I loved that a dingy blue stuffed bunny, but I can't imagine wanting to sleep with it in the crook of my arm now.
posted by desuetude at 10:41 PM on August 11, 2011

I "quit" drinking once before I quit for real.

I "quit" in 1995, when I decided that I could quit whenever I wanted to. Didn't work like that, but since I was drinking less, I decided it was close enough. And when I drank too much, I decided that it wasn't that bad, etc etc etc etc etc.

I quit for real on Halloween 1996, when I realized that there was no difference between my drinking, and my father's.

Life got way, way more stressful for quite a while after that, but from that day to then, I haven't had another drink.
posted by ElaineMc at 12:07 AM on August 12, 2011

Did you quit a bad or unhealthy behavior?

Smoking and drinking. I'll assume from your examples that those are the behaviors you're talking about.

Change your environment (and maybe even your friends, if they're part of the unhealthy furniture) and your behavior will change.

Don't be where people smoke and drink. You'll have a hell of a time quitting smoking or drinking when the people you're with are enjoying their smokes and drink right in front of you, thanking and praising people who buy rounds and share smokes, and even actively encouraging you to start up again when they know you want to quit. Smokers and drinkers prefer the smoking and drinking version of you. Get out of places like that, even if that means avoiding the usual parties.

Be where people don't smoke and drink. You'll have a much easier time starting alternative and antidote behaviors (pretty much any kind of active exercise, for example) when you're alone or with people who are into things that pretty much preclude smoking or drinking. Get yourself into recreational situations where you would be rejected or mocked if you did it with a smoke in your mouth or a beer in your hand.

You might not have to actively drop your smoking and drinking friends, but stop meeting up with them unless it's in places where you and they can't drink or smoke. You'll certainly lose the friends who need smoking and drinking more than they need your company.

Then plant your roots in the healthy environment so you won't want to go back. Make friends with healthy people. Find a healthy mate.
posted by pracowity at 2:02 AM on August 12, 2011

I think for some it is actually as simple as they reach a turning point where they snap and have had enough, some low they realize they don't ever want to encounter again. I felt that way about smoking--I quit for external reasons (social pressure, realizing I was going to be married which felt like a new chapter, etc.) the first time years ago, and that involved lots of psyching myself out and preparation beforehand, but I relapsed a few years later. The second time I just quit one day suddenly because I was personally disgusted and fed up with it, the feeling of not being in control.
posted by ifjuly at 4:50 AM on August 12, 2011

When I quit smoking, I made a conscious decision NOT to change my friends or environment. Using the patch, I learned how to go to bars and drink beer without having a cigarette in my hand. Worked wonderfully, because I was able/forced to think about the actual quitting of smoking cigarettes, and not obscuring it with "I won't go to bars (because that's where I smoke)." That might be the easier way to do it, but it isn't effective in breaking the mental addiction to smoking.

In other words, it is easy to quit almost anything if one has truly made the decision that they want to stop.
posted by gjc at 5:56 AM on August 12, 2011

I had been smoking since I was fifteen and three years ago, age thirty-two just woke up one morning and quit. Didn't make an actual conscious decision to stop although I'd tried several times before then to stop smoking (mostly cold turkey - never using patches or what-have-you). I'd smoked maybe 15-20 a day for all those years but had switched to hand rolled for cost.

I'm not sure what caused it to be honest. About 3-4 months before I quit I had a chest infection that lasted about 6 weeks that might have had some impact on my choice but otherwise I just cold quit for no real reason.
posted by longbaugh at 6:08 AM on August 12, 2011

I can see this happening. ITs actually sort of how chantix works (my mother in-law used chantix to quit) Chantix made cigarettes disgusting to her. This way her body did not want them anymore. One day while taking chantix she went to take a cigarette and found out horrible and disgusting and stopped.

If a drug can make a person do this i can see it happening naturally.
posted by majortom1981 at 8:03 AM on August 12, 2011

I only know one smoker who quit "cold turkey". He was my grandfather. He quit, and never looked back, because they discontinued his brand. If pressed further, he would just get a bit agitated that they had stopped making his cigarettes.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 9:32 AM on August 12, 2011

My great uncle smoked three packs a day from age eleven, often following that with a bottle or two of Jack. He quit both on the eve of a triple-bypass surgery at age eighty-three. (His doctor told him the surgery would be useless if he continued to roughhouse his arteries.)

For the rest of his life, he chewed popsicle sticks like a fiend. I don't think I ever saw him without a mangled little wood stick dangling from his lips.

I took from this: Replace, don't repent. Gotta satisfy that oral fix one way or another.
posted by fritillary at 1:18 PM on August 12, 2011

For me, quitting bulimia was really hard. I tried 3 times before I succeeded, and the thing that finally worked was getting on antidepressants so I could sleep. Once I could sleep normally for awhile, my panic attacks stopped, and then CBT finally worked for me.

Just therapy didn't make me quit; moving to Italy did, for awhile (puking into thousand-year-old plumbing is logistically impossible, if you want to flush). Getting lots of exercise worked for awhile, but then I kept getting injured.

I got off antidepressants after a year and I've relapsed maybe 3-4 times in 10 years. Frankly, barfing hurts terribly and triggers asthma attacks now (like when I'm sick or have food poisoning). I cannot imagine doing it now, it horrifies me.

But messing up my teeth, losing my voice, driving away a boyfriend, being ashamed, etc. - none of that was enough. Wanting to quit wasn't enough. I needed an objective person to help me deal with some very dark childhood traumas, and until I could fucking CALM!DOWN and stop having insomnia-based dementia and panic attacks, I couldn't cope with that.

So, for some people, the day to suddenly quit just happens when you've dealt with the emotions the addiction was treating, you know? I never mentioned a quit date or goal to my therapist; I hadn't talked about my ED for months. I just sort of stopped and didn't say anything for a long time, because overanalyzing it would've made me relapse. But then when I was ready and she was sure I was OK, she released me from treatment and I never 12-stepped it, never went to the emergency room, never went to a group, never had inpatient or outpatient rehab... but I'm fine now and can't imagine ever doing it again. Like others said, it repulses me seriously now. I'm sure I'll never be a voluntary barfer again in this life.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:39 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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