Why am I addicted to something I've never tried?
July 24, 2007 11:20 PM   Subscribe

Craving cigarettes, but have never smoked. Anybody ever heard of this?

I have never smoked a cigarette in my life. Recently I've been having dreams where I'm smoking a cigarette and REALLY enjoying it. It makes me feel very relaxed (which is what they supposedly do right?). When I wake up I have what feels to be the taste of cigarettes in my mouth, and an intense craving to smoke one.

In addition to this I often find myself longing for one when I get a whiff of someone smoking in public. I really enjoy their scent.

Like I said, I've never tried smoking anything in my life. Can anybody explain this phenomenon? Has anybody ever heard of this? Most people I know that have never smoked are repulsed by the smell and have never had this desire that I harbor.

What I find interesting is that the dreams only occur during a stressful period in my life. Also, my dad smoked cigarettes for a long period in his life, which could also have something to do with this. I know that probably makes me more prone to addiction, but it's like I'm already addicted to something I've never tried.
posted by Defenestrator to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can relate. My grandma used to smoke in the car and in the house while she babysat me. The first smell after the cigarette was lit was the most enticing. Maybe it does mean you're habitually relaxed by that familiar smell. I don't think that experience matches a clinical description of addiction.

I don't know what your dreams mean.

So, on to what I do know. I am a sometime smoker, myself, and I've never been addicted. I average less than a pack a month, smoking in Vegas, at bars, when drinking. And I bum a lot of them out, because mine have a special attention-getting smell. If you want to smoke, and you know you want to, well, try a cigarette. You probably won't like it. They don't taste like they smell. However, as you are talking to a sometime smoker, I won't withhold from you my advice on what to smoke if you want a smoke that fullfils that flavor fantasy. My smokes are Vanilla Sweet Dreams. They can be obtained at some liquor stores and most head shops. Have a plan to try x times. Stick to it.

I bet I'll get reeeeeeamed by other posters for saying to try a cigarette, but coming from my personal experience of non-addictivity and general healthy living, it's a little evil that can be managed and can be avoided at will. I can't feel differently about it. I feel like... we are not talking about opiates or amphetamines. Of course, take a grain of salt, on me.

IANTSG (I am not the surgeon general)

Or, light matches. Those smell good, too.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:43 PM on July 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

This happened to me! Even when I was fervently anti-smoking as a teenager, I'd get this completely unexpected thought every now and then, "I'd like a cigarette". It would come out of nowhere, and it would occasionally take me a minute to remember that I didn't smoke.

Unfortunately, I am an idiot and I took up smoking, cos I figured I'd try it "once" just to see if it was like I imagined. Yeah, smart move. Don't do it!
posted by indienial at 11:59 PM on July 24, 2007

My good sense brought me back to provide a few qualifiers.

If your dad smoked around you a lot, indoors especially, maybe you did get enough of a nicotine fix to get somewhat addicted.

This much talking about cigarettes is enough to get me craving one. This has been my smoking pattern for 8 years. I have tried more drugs once than drugs I've done twice.

I still can't finish it, though, just smoked half one. If you smoke something harsh your first time, say, a Marlboro Red, you'll be less likely to like it. If you can get some concrete cigarette smoking experience that's yucky, maybe that'll get it out of your system.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:12 AM on July 25, 2007

I grew up the child of smokers. Hell, I was smoking before I was born. And it was throughout the house, and in the car, and even, who'd believe it now - in the classroom. So when I started smoking, it was like coming home. Okay, yes, home to abusive parents who were going to kill me, but home just the same. Took me a good twenty years to leave "home" too, with about 40 serious quits and all the weight gain for each one.

However, no smokers in your life? Maybe advertising works. Oh and by the way, cigarettes only release the tension of a crave which makes you feel like you're relaxing. Your blood pressure and heart rate actually go up to cope with the toxins and reduce oxygen. Better to pat a dog or something.
posted by b33j at 1:10 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I buy a pack every few months or something, and have a couple. Sometimes it feels like a Thing I Need To Do. I'm not dead, or a heroin addict, or anything.

Though, of course, the ex-addicts know best here, and/or they probably want to kill us casual smokers.

The high is nice, the actual smoke itself is horrible, and yeah, you end up coughing shit up the next 24 hours, and in general it is kind of crap. But hey, like oxford blue says, follow your dreams!

My parents smoked (though not around/with me when I was very little.) It is probably related to that, a bit, some sort of very deep conditioning that smokers' kids never really break. You only live once. Realize that you will smell like a cigarette afterward.
posted by blacklite at 2:45 AM on July 25, 2007

Okay, I will try to answer the question.

For a long time when I was a vegetarian (after having been a meat eater once before, long ago) I would have dreams of eating meat. Not just a little piece, but ripping chunks off of giant slabs of meat with my teeth.

Similarly, I have dreams where I'm eating pork (I don't eat pig). Again, in these dreams it's usually an obscene amount.

I am not a psychologist or expert on dreams, but my understanding is that dreams are a good place to explore the forbidden and to participate in activities that you can't, don't, or won't do in real life. It doesn't mean you want the experience of smoking in real life; while I do eat meat now, I don't like it all that much, and it's certainly never as satisfying as it is in my dreams, so I don't think my dreams represent some kind of latent desire to consume large quantities of the stuff.

I certainly can't explain the taste in your mouth, although most people have a kind of dry yucky taste in their mouth when they wake up, and association with the dream might make you identify it as the taste of a cigarette. Incidentally, if you've never French kissed a smoker I can tell you that your mouth tastes a lot worse than a cigarette smells. It really does taste like you're licking the inside of an ashtray (Tom Robbins can go to hell).
posted by Deathalicious at 4:02 AM on July 25, 2007

I think the dreams and associations with/desiring of relaxing feelings have nothing to do with wanting a cigarette, and everything to do with wanting the feeling of security you had being with your dad.

Find something else that gives you that relaxation and sense of security you crave - massage, yoga, warm bath.

you won't find it at the end of a cigarette - as an ex-addict, i can assure you of that.
posted by wayward vagabond at 4:15 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is kind of how I started smoking. One saturday afternoon when I was 16 I was suddenly struck with an intense desire to smoke a cigarette - an experience I'd never had before. Until that point I'd never had one in my life or ever (as far as I remember,) had any desire to.

I sneaked one of my mum's out of the cupboard, went to my room and smoked it.

You know what? It was OK.

I've smoked on and off since that day.

Both my parents smoked at the time (although very very rarely around me or in the house,) but beyond that I've got absolutely no idea what the hell happened.
posted by Jofus at 5:05 AM on July 25, 2007

I have this same urge especially after going to a show or a club where people are smoking. I think I've had 2 cigarettes in my life. I like the smell as well, and I think I associate it with having fun. Maybe you associate it with your dad, and that's why you want to smoke. It's a familiar (maybe good?) smell to you.
posted by bluefly at 5:38 AM on July 25, 2007

MeTa, by the way.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:39 AM on July 25, 2007

I smoke the occasional cigarette. Sometimes at a bar or out on the patio I'll bum one and smoke it - usually I'm somewhat drunk. A maximum of five cigarettes a year, if that. It is possible to smoke them every now and then and avoid addiction. But it's a bit of a fool's game because the price of the habit is so high.

However, neither of my parents ever smoked so I have no psychological association with it. Perhaps your case will be different?
posted by sid at 5:44 AM on July 25, 2007

I had that urge all the time! Cigarettes are constantly in one's daily life--if it's not advertising, it's public debate on smoking in bars or littering of butts or dodging smokers when leaving a building. It almost seems like one's mind is subconsciously trying to get you to fit in as a social, smoking creature.

I smoked weed for a year or so before I drunkenly tried my first cigarette one night after being offered by a friend at a bar. All I remember is thinking, this is way more stinky, painful and chemical-tasting than weed. Then I got sick from drinking and it put me off ever wanting to taste a cigarette ever again. If you have to smoke something to get your urge out, smoke pot instead.
posted by sian at 6:01 AM on July 25, 2007

-Can anybody explain this phenomenon?-

It seems to me that you have largely answered your own question by noting that: your dreams occur during stressful times; that you associate smoking with your father, whom I will assume was a secure and comforting figure in your life; that you identify relaxation and pleasure seen in (some) others with smoking.

You get stressed and you are looking for relief - that's a strong causative factor to explain why your dreams occur. The taste is a memory association: you know the smell of cigarettes and you already identify them as calmative 'tools', so the sensation is just an overt manifestation of the same preoccupation of your subconcious with seeking relaxation.

Perhaps your description of 'craving' a cigarette is really a post-dream rationalisation -- your dream is a significant recurring phenomenon that you have obviously devoted some time to thinking about: again, your association of smoking with relaxation, pleasure and security - things that will alleviate stress - has been processed as 'desiring' a cigarette.

I'm no Freud, but it seems pretty logical. Maybe try jogging or some alternative stress reliever if it's all really hammering your head around a bit too much.
posted by peacay at 6:05 AM on July 25, 2007

If your dad smoked around you a lot, indoors especially, maybe you did get enough of a nicotine fix to get somewhat addicted.

Data, please, that suggests that exposure to secondhand smoke any number of years ago produces some sort of delayed addiction to nicotine?

Defenestrator, we do all kinds of stuff in our dreams that feels real that isn't. Yours happens to be a taboo that intensely polarizes people's opinions, so of course it's alluring and stays in your memory. You may be remembering your dad, you may be thinking about all those glamorous smokers in the movies of yesteryear, you may be processing a desire to rebel, you may just be an avid reader of the editorial page.
posted by desuetude at 6:06 AM on July 25, 2007

Comments about liking the smell of cigarettes or matches are so foreign to me! I was raised in home where both parents and almost every guest smoked. Today, I can't stand the smell even of matches. I don't even like them in my house, and if a stray matchbook ends up in a kitchen drawer, I throw it away, but even holding the matchbook gives me a physical yuuuuuuuck reaction.

All that to say, we have different reactions to to things from our childhood. Many people smoke because their parents did. In my case, their smoking turned me off to it. The same with drinking. My parents drinking so turned me off that I never even tried an alcoholic beverage until I was over 40.

You probably have a subconscious attachment that relates smoking to relaxation or stress relief. Did you feel safe with your dad? Maybe the smell takes you back to being around your dad and feeling safe.

It's true that smell is a powerful memory trigger. I can't tell you how many times a smell suddenly brings back memories I had no idea I even had!

Your dreams, like many dreams we all have, are allowing you to experience something you would probably not do in real life. Your subconscious relates smoking to safety and relaxation, and in stressful times, it gets thrown into your dream. My advice: keep it there.
posted by The Deej at 6:13 AM on July 25, 2007

Mod note: Several "ZOMG NEVAR SMOKE" comments and a meat vs. retardation derail deleted. There's a Metatalk thread if you're feeling too frisky to actually answer the question.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:15 AM on July 25, 2007

Mod note: a few comments removed - if you are not answering the "help me understand this dream/feeling" question you should be in MeTa not here
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:16 AM on July 25, 2007

Cigerette companies spend money -- lots of money -- advertising their product. They try to get people who have never smoked to smoke. I would suspect that has something to do with a strange desire for cigarettes.
posted by chunking express at 6:23 AM on July 25, 2007

Perhaps your brain is trying to tell you that you are really stressed out and it's sending you the signal to relax already. Growing up in a house of smokers, you've learned that smoking = relaxation/stress relief. It doesn't necessarily mean you want to smoke, just find something to chill out.

(Oh god it's early morning, I cannot string sentences together for the life of me.)
posted by idiotfactory at 6:23 AM on July 25, 2007

The physical and mental addictions to smoking are quite different. Your body can get over the physical addiction within 3 weeks of quitting, and yet people who quit can go for years or decades without losing the emotional desire to smoke.

Your situation is a little strange, but it sounds like you've mentally addicted yourself to smoking without ever touching a cigarette. You've mentally associated cigarettes with relieving stress and/or relaxing just like a smoker does, except you've done it without going through the physical addiction.
posted by chundo at 6:33 AM on July 25, 2007

I didn't grow up around smokers, and I've never smoked (beyond two or three brief experiments). I don't know if I would go as far as to say cravings but I've certainly had times when I've quite fancied a cigarette, generally when I've been spending time around people smoking. It's actually been on my mind every now and then just lately. I'm pretty sure I would enjoy it, but I think I would get addicted pretty fast and my wife wouldn't come near me if I smelt of smoke.

Just writing this now gave me a little bit of a jones. So you are not alone.

Here's another guy.
posted by teleskiving at 6:44 AM on July 25, 2007

I can't explain it, but yes, I've heard of it. I am a chain smoker in my dreams, despite never having had a single drag of anything in my lifetime. I mean when I'm dreaming, I smoke one cigarette after another, and it is good. And I think to myself, "hmm, how'd that happen? I started smoking, and now I'm addicted to cigarettes." And once I dreamed of smoking pot.

Also, in my dreams I'm friends with John Paul II and can travel around by floating just a few inches off the ground. And so on.

Both my parents have smoked their whole lives.
posted by lampoil at 7:01 AM on July 25, 2007

This happens to me a lot, though not about smoking. I've been about as clean and unpolluted as a girl can be, but occasionally, I get these overwhelming desires to go find some X. I have no idea where it comes from- I don't know anybody who's done it, I've never done it, I've only heard about it tangentially in the news and in blogs, but just sometimes I want some, desperately.

Likewise, sometimes I really, really, really want a Krabby Patty (from Spongebob Squarepants' completely fictional fast food joint.) So I don't think it's just harmful things- as the vegetarian noted above with the meat dreams from time to time. I think our brains are just wired to WANT impossible or forbidden things every once in a while, like infatuation. If everything were possible and easily obtainable, we'd get bored and become inert. So hey, enjoy it- just be careful not to give into it!
posted by headspace at 7:30 AM on July 25, 2007

My parents both smoked, and smoked fairly heavily, in the house, in the car, everywhere. I was a non-smoker until moving back home in my early 20s and was exposed to it again. My brother is also a heavy, indoor smoker. It was three against one.

I started to get the urge to smoke, too. It was a mystery to me, but I figured I picked up a bit of the "habit" just from being exposed to it, both physically and seeing the habit. A passive addiction, if you will. I don't recall if I dreamed about smoking, but I experienced definite, specific cravings to smoke, when I never had smoked before. If I remember correctly, stress might have been involved with me as well. The behaviour that was modeled for me was that smoking was enjoyable, relaxing, satisfying, and so on, despite the verbal advice being not to take it up.

Unfortunately, I went out and bought my own cigarettes, and joined the 'party'.

It was really stupid, and I don't recommend you do it. Keep it in your dreams.

I think the other answers above regarding stress and memory and the association with comfort have more validity, if you're not currently living with a smoker. However, I know from my experience that I experienced definite cravings for a cigarette before I ever started smoking.
posted by Savannah at 7:43 AM on July 25, 2007

The idea of smoking a cigarette is very romantic. Once a friend said to me, I don't smoke, but sometimes I wish I did. And I totally identified. Something about the idea of it seems so comforting (if you don't think about the cost, the smell, how it really feels, or what it does to your body).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:45 AM on July 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Heh, I'm a confirmed, 100% lesbian when I'm awake, but in my dreams it's not uncommon for me to fool around with a guy, and enjoy it. Freaked me out the first few times, but I've pretty much come to accept that my subconscious is just weird.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:56 AM on July 25, 2007

I can understand that sensation of waking up from a vivid, pleasurable dream and wanting to recreate that sensation. A couple of times a year, I dream that I fall madly, wildly in love with someone. It is such an intense rush, when I wake up (and cuddle my dear boy of nine years whom I love dearly but not in that mad, wild first rush of lust way) I always feel distinctly bereft.

Even if I didn't actually do the it, I still have memories of the event and mourn a little for what I lost. Now, obviously, I can't just run out and find someone and have a whirlwind affair. Even if I did, it would never be as good as it is in my dream and I'd lose the good thing I have now.

I say the smoking where it is nothing but good and where it can't hurt you.
posted by mostlymartha at 9:35 AM on July 25, 2007

So when I started smoking, it was like coming home.

Just a counter-anecdote. Both of my parents were multiple-packs-a-day smokers from before my birth and my entire life I've really, really had an aversion to smoking. I've never had any desire whatsoever to smoke. I chewed a bit of tobacco and dipped a bit when I was a teen, but that was a counter-to-type affectation sort of thing. Never had the least urge to smoke.

Because of my parents, until I left home and wasn't around smokers all the time, I did have a high tolerance for smokers and a smoking environment. Excepting ashtrays. God, I've always hated ashtrays. And back when it was still legal for kids to buy cigarattes, I refused to run into the store and buy some for my mom. It didn't bother me that they smoked in terms of the environment, but I never liked it because it was unhealthy and I refused to contribute to it.

Anyway, I'm just not sure how true the "smoking household" thing can be to contributing to someone's physical desire to smoke. If there's something to the idea, obviously it's not reliable.

It's been a mystery to me my whole life why people feel attracted to smoking. Surely it's purely cultural? Everyone around me who's smoked at one point or another (which is, sadly, everyone around me) did so in a cultural context. Usually, when their entire peer group began smoking. I am almost completely immune to peer pressure, I think, and the way that my friends would take up smoking was really, really weird from my perspective.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:14 AM on July 25, 2007

I only smoke cigarettes when I'm too drunk to remember that I don't smoke. You might want to try smoking a nice cigar or cigarillo. You still get to suck on the end of something, have the ritual of lighting it up and the whole hand to mouth thing, but there's no inhalation and it smells and tastes kind of nice. Spend the money to get something good, enjoy it and relax.
posted by captaincrouton at 10:20 AM on July 25, 2007

I didn't actually answer the question did I? I just went off about cigars.
I too had this craving, tried smoking, don't really like it and substituted it with a cigar or cigarillos about once a month. My parents don't smoke. Most of my friends don't smoke. But we all like the occasional cuban or hookah.
posted by captaincrouton at 10:23 AM on July 25, 2007

Did you ever date anyone who chewed tobacco? Kissing them might've gotten you mildly addicted.
posted by salvia at 4:18 PM on July 25, 2007

I have the exact same cravings, though I grew up in a household that was strongly anti-tobacco and where two of my grandparents developed lung cancer from decades of smoking. I've always loved the smell of cigarettes, though, because they remind me of one of my favorite uncles. I've always associated my cravings with those memories and also a little bit of rebelliousness because they were so taboo. Did your dad always lecture you about not smoking, while he did it himself?

I smoked a few times to see if that would get it out of my system, and for the most part I don't really get the cravings anymore. Then again, I tried not to inhale too much -- I smoked them more like cigars than cigarettes -- so I didn't get too much of the nicotine. I guess I just craved the action of smoking more than the actual nicotine.
posted by lilac girl at 7:51 PM on July 25, 2007

Best answer: In a lot of my dreams, I'm a heroin junkie. The dreams are vivid, with the preparation of the heroin, the prick on the needle and an astoundingly intense high. I wake up with a strong desire to get some heroin.

These dreams scared the hell out of me at first. I've never used heroin. I've never even seen heroin. To my knowledge, I've never met a junkie. Morphine made me sick the one time I had it in the hospital.

Like you, these dreams come to me most often when I am stressed out. I think that somewhere in my mind, becoming a junkie is the ultimate way of escaping from my problems and dropping out of life.

Now for the question that you didn't ask. I'm lucky in a way because I have no idea where to get heroin. For you, all you have to do is go to a gas station. My curiosity about smoking led to a monkey on my back for the last 20 years. I'm never going to make that mistake again. Please don't smoke. I promise I won't shoot up.
posted by SteveTheRed at 5:27 AM on July 27, 2007

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