Addiction Or Simply Habitual?

The question of whether smoking is an addiction or simply a habitual activity can give rise to much heated debate. Many smokers believe that smoking is just a habit and that they can quit smoking at any time. Many medical experts and non-smokers however believe that smoking is an addiction and that for the vast majority of smokers it is not possible to quit smoking without outside help.

What is Addiction?

An addiction is usually an uncontrollable urge or desire to indulge in some activity which provides the person with a form of pleasure or stimulus that is difficult to replicate without using the substance or activity that causes the addiction. Addictions are known to come in all sorts of different guises. You can have substance addiction; the most well know are drugs and alcohol, and you can have activity addiction such as exercise or eating disorders. However, the activity addictions usually have some basis in substance addiction. For example, a person addicted to exercise may well be addicted to the chemicals, such as adrenalin, produced by the body as a result of the exercise.

What is Habitual?

We all have habits and habitual behaviours; they are a part of everyday life. For example, how we put on a pair of shoes usually follows a set routine; how we dress is habitual too. These everyday activities are normal and useful so that we use our time efficiently. However, once an activity passes a certain point we begin to see the signs of the habitual behaviour changing to an obsessive one. When you start to lose conscious control over your activity then you are on the road to developing a habitual behaviour that will have a negative impact on you, your life and your family and friends. Eating disorders are a common example of this. There is much evidence to support the view that nearly all habitual behaviour has a psychological root cause and that if this root cause can be dealt with, i.e. removed, then the habitual activity can be controlled and eliminated.

Smoking – addiction or habit?

The problem with smoking is that there is plenty of evidence to support the view that smoking as an activity is certainly habitual. Many smokers speak of the need to be doing something with their hands, or to have something to help them concentrate. In this way it is easy to see how the humble looking cigarette can fit this need since it is small enough not to interfere with daily activities such as driving, talking, and writing. However, there is much medical evidence to show that nicotine, and other chemicals contained in the humble cigarette, can be addictive and that for the vast majority of smokers it has become addictive. The stimulus created by nicotine, like most addictive substances, tends to become a powerful driving force that gives the person an uncontrollable desire for more. Also, the process of the body returning to normal after prolonged exposure to nicotine, as when a person quits smoking, produces very unpleasant side effects which erode the persons resolve to stop smoking. The urge to smoke again is all too often more powerful than the will to quit smoking.

The problem for long-term smokers, or very heavy smokers, is that you have to deal with two major issues when you are stopping smoking. The first is the habitual nature of smoking, the process of lighting and smoking the cigarette. This can be especially difficult in a social setting with other smokers present. The second is the addictive nature of nicotine and other chemicals in the tobacco. The urge to smoke, even when alone with no other smokers around you, is very strong and is difficult to resist with will-power alone. The answer for most smokers is that they are both addicted and have a very ingrained habitual activity which, like most habits, is difficult to break.