Smoking: Additional reasons why it’s SO hard to quit

Nicotine and

NOT what you think this post is going to be about!

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Another post in the Walking A Mile in Another’s Shoes Series

It’s National Cancer Prevention Month!
American Institute for Cancer Research

A relatively new study on nicotine and self medication (linked below in the Related Content) prompted me to revisit the topic of smoking.

Why do so many of us continue to do it?

WHY does it seem to be so difficult to put those smokes down — despite the black-box warnings that now come on every pack sold in the USA?

Science rings in

The link between self-medication and smoking really isn’t news to me, by the way, but some scientific validation is always reassuring.

An article I published early-ish in 2013 can be found HERE – where I discussed the relationship between nicotine’s psycho-stimulation, the brain, and the concept of “core benefits.”

For those of you who enjoy a bit of sarcasm with your information, it’s written in a rah-ther snarky tone toward the self-righteous – who, because of the way the brain responds, actually make it more difficult for people who need to quit with their nags and nudges.

Even if you don’t, you’ve probably never come across this particular point of view anywhere else as an explanation for why it can be such a struggle to quit — especially for those of us who are card-carrying members of Alphabet City.

I’ll give you just a little preview of what I mean by “snarky” below
(along with Cliff Notes™ of most of the info, for those of you with more interest than time).


Sit on your hands if you must, but do your dead-level best to hear me out before you make it your business to burn up the keyboard telling me what I already know, okay?

I PROMISE YOU I have already heard everything
you are going to find it difficult not to flame at me.

There is not a literate human being in the United States (or the world) who hasn’t been made aware of every single argument you might attempt to burn into the retinas of every smoky throated human within any circle of influence you are able to tie down, shout down, argue down or otherwise pontificate toward.

NOW – can you listen for once?  I’m not going to force you to inhale.  I’m not even trying to change your mind. I would like to OPEN it a crack, however.

If you sincerely want to protect your friends and loved ones while you rid the world of the deleterious effects of all that nasty second-hand smoke, wouldn’t it make some sense to understand WHY your arguments continue to fall on deaf ears?

Unless you truly believe that saying the same thing for the two million and twenty-second time is going to suddenly make a difference —

or unless you don’t really care whether people stop smoking
or not as long as you get to rant and rave about it

 — wouldn’t it make some sense to listen for a moment to WHY some of the people are still smoking?

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Logically Inconsistent

It would be facile and disingenuous to argue that logic faults were the only reason your arguments don’t seem to make much of a difference to those cold, inconsiderate, indifferent and rude barely-human beings who insist on puffing on your planet.

It IS one reason why those human smoke-stacks
find you easy to dismiss, however.

Some of you quote statistics with abandon, seemingly concerned by the risks to the smoker as you point out how inconsiderate it is to loved-ones they would leave behind for them to deliberately court death in a manner over which they could – and so should – exert some control.

You explain these risks over your cell phone while you drive home from wherever you’ve been.

Do you realize that what you are doing – using a cell phone while you are driving – is statistically more likely to result in death or disaster to self and others than first or second-hand smoke?

WERE YOU AWARE that, according to scientific reaction-time studies, talking on a cell-phone while driving – EVEN hands-free – is riskier than driving with a blood-alcohol content over the legal limit?

But you are the exception who can handle it safely, right? And you have a good reason to drive, dial and dialogue, of course.  So that makes it okay in your case, you explain.

It also makes it logically inconsistent, thus your “don’t smoke” arguments easily dismissed.

Some of you drink, then drive.  Ditto.

Explanations that might help you get what you want

Since arguments from the general to the specific AND the specific to the general are rampant in the “Why Do Smokers Continue to Smoke” rants that populate the internet (logic faults, both), let’s get into a few new specifics.

@Lady Banana – if you REALLY want him to quit, stop making him wrong.

Unless, of course, what you want more is an excuse to punish him for ever having started to begin with — or for not listening to you about something else that you can’t attack directly.

ANY make-wrong will make it all the more difficult for him to quit, but at least then there would be some kind of logic to the vociferous censure.

  • That’s one big answer to your question, why “so many fail to quit.”
  • Brain science.


Do ANY of you “just say NO” don’t-smoke advocates honestly believe there is anything you can say that will be NEW to a smoker?

Its not about information and its not about logic.

For quit smoking success, smokers need sympathy, understanding and SUPPORT for the behaviors you and the smoker BOTH would like to see increased.

“See if you can give up just one more of your cigarettes every day this week”
“How ’bout a quick massage instead of picking up cigs again?”
“Wait TEN more minutes, I KNOW you can do it!”

They do NOT need judgment and censure for the behaviors you want stopped,
coupled with another fear-mongering lecture.

I promise, they’re already afraid – mostly of failure in their own eyes.

NOT so New Paradigms of Motivation

Motivational science long ago moved beyond
“motivating away from” to “motivating toward
— letting go of “the stick” to embrace “the carrot” — because:

People smoke to cope with negative emotions.  Life gives them enough of those moments – counselors and doctors and loved ones don’t do ANYBODY any favors by upping the emotional ante.

The beatings will stop when motivation increases!!

Pretty silly, thought about that way, yes?

Beating a horse to get him to run might work initially, but it won’t work forever.
And it makes for a mean horse!

  • Beaten horses rush for relief — in this case, a cigarette.
  • Logic will be discounted and your smokers will turn a deaf ear to ALL of your statistics. After all, not EVERYONE who smokes dies (cognitive dissonance avoidance at it’s finest).

Try something different

The “negative reinforcement” approach will never-never-never encourage long-term results as reliably as baby-stepped, really-no-kidding SUPPORT.

Save all your “wonderful reasons” to keep kids and young adults from ever starting in the first place!

But be careful with your language and tone so that you don’t activate THEIR oppositional behavior either — especially likely with teens!

Related post & darling story: Gramp’s Pipe Part 2

Nix the judgment if you’re more concerned about a smoker’s physical health (and your own!) than being right.

NOW let’s talk about Costs and Benefits

Every source of energy has costs and benefits. If the benefit is central to quality of life (or perceived to be central), we can identify that particular practice as a core benefit.

We are “hard wired” for survival.

Danger is danger.  Our brains don’t distinguish well between a physical threat and a psychological threat.  Any attempt at “behavior modification” (nagging or coaching) which ignores the realities of the victim/sufferer’s life will be ineffectual — not to mention annoying, if not down-right cruel.

For all of us, along with life itself, sanity is a core benefit that is primary. 

Being able to organize our thoughts is a prerequisite to feeling like we are sane; “intentional attending” is a prerequisite for cognitive organization.

For people who find themselves unable to focus their minds without what we’ll refer to as an “adrenalin boost,” the benefit of suddenly being able to think clearly will always seem to outweigh any cost

You are fighting an impossible battle to get them to give up the benefit unless you can eliminate or significantly reduce the danger underneath the need for the benefit: lack of cognitive focus.

About Self Medication

Distinction: Addiction vs. bad habit vs. self-medication

People who have Executive Functional Struggles can sometimes demonstrate behaviors that confuse novice ADD Coaches, thinking that what they’re hearing belongs in the realm of addiction when, in fact, something else is going on.  The distinction is essential, because the approach to solution is different.

The question that illuminates the difference is this one: 
is the “substance abuse” one that takes the person away from life or toward it?

Addictions usually have an escapist quality to them — life is more exciting when they’re jazzed, or less frenetic or unhappy when they’re chemically calmed.

In other words, there is something wrong with LIFE that the substance helps them manage.  Or so the [lack of] thinking goes.

Attempts at self medication are different at their base, and we see a lot of it in the ADD/EFD world.

Stimulation for FOCUS

Without going into a long explanation of receptor cites and neuro-chemical efficacy,
stimulants focus the brain.

ADD/EFDers frequently stumble upon stimulants (caffeine & nicotine in particular, sometimes others) because the neurochemical “boost” makes them feel calmer and more able to focus with intentionality, sustain focus, and shift focus at will, NOT because they are experiencing a “kick” that makes life more exciting.

NOBODY is suggesting you go along with any substance abuse, by the way,
regardless of the reason for it.

The purpose of the distinction is that if you are dealing with the “bad habit” of self-medicating, solving the primary problem (i.e., giving the “abuser” another way to achieve the primary benefit that the “habit” was developed to manage) is the quickest way to open the space for the person to cut down on the caffeine, kick the cigarette habit, etc. — even if it has slipped over the addiction line.

Make sense? Good! But there’s more, so stay with me here.

Medication Delivery

EVEN when many ADD/EFDers find their way to effective medication, they may still find it difficult to give up the cigarettes (or the caffeine).  HOW COME?  Delivery on demand.

It’s easier to explain the dynamic in terms of the difference between those of us who rely on nature’s own insulin pump and diabetics who must take shots.

For those of us lucky enough to have a healthy insulin metabolism, our bodies deliver insulin on demand.  We eat something that needs to be metabolized and our body helps us out.  We don’t eat, no additional insulin is required, so none is pumped.

For diabetics, the balance must be
self-monitored and self-adjusted.

Unless they eat exactly the same balance of calories, from exactly the same food groups (at exactly the same time of day, relative to their schedule), the shot they give themselves in the morning is a good guesstimate of what they need, but really no more than that.

They frequently must adjust throughout the day: administer another shot of insulin, or quickly gobble a handful of M&Ms.

Similar with Stimulants

Life is not even and predictable – so medication delivery, EVEN when appropriately titrated, can only be a good guesstimate of what we need to drive our brains.

If our politicians weren’t so focused on protecting addicts from themselves that the drug laws didn’t make it tough for those of us taking controlled medications to remain stable, we wouldn’t need to boost functioning with additional substances like nicotine and caffeine.

For example, in addition to a lower baseline long-acting formulation, our doctors might prescribe a variety of dosages in fast acting tablets that we could use in much the same manner that my sister managed her diabetes with supplemental insulin.

  • When our functional needs were lower, we’d take less.
  • When life bumped up, we could bump up our medication to help us manage.
  • AS IT IS, we must medicate for optimal functioning across-the-board on an average day.

How many of YOUR days are average?
Yeah right!

As a result, many of us “boost” with a stimulating substance like caffeine or nicotine.  Some, like me, are as aware of our own functional needs as my sister was aware of her metabolic needs.  Others aren’t really conscious of what they’re doing, they just know that it helps.

The same dynamic applies to most human beings

Most of us drink coffee, tea, colas, or energy drinks, and few of us are aware that what we are “boosting” is cognitive ability.

But we sure know when we need a cup of coffee — or a cigarette!

So, when you’re asking somebody to get along without the “crutch” that helps them function – even if they aren’t aware of what it’s helping – you are dealing in the territory of Core Benefit.

For many smokers, giving up cigarettes is possible ONLY once life settles down to a manageable roar.

Those of you whose bodies, metaphorically, “pump” what you need to drive your own brains can’t understand what it’s like for the rest of us, any more than I could really understand what my sister had to deal with as a diabetic.

But I believed her when she said she needed to stop what we were doing to go buy some M&Ms or rush home for a shot.

And because I believed her, I was able to help her come up with some “think it through” strategies that gave us a lot more outings that were not interrupted.

MY POINT is that a little “listening from belief” support from you might help the smokers in your life kick the habit.  In any case, it might lower your annoyance with them, and theirs with your “nagging,” so that they might be willing to keep their habit out of your lungs. It’s worth a shot!


Now that I’ve given you another reason why it might be hard to quit, don’t think I’m letting anybody off the hook.  STAY TUNED for some quitting help – which actually means building the non-smoking habit. (Meanwhile, check out some of the suggestions linked below)

BUT RIGHT NOW, immediately on the heels of learning that Senate Republican “leaders” sold out an entire country of children when they confirmed Betsy DeVoss as Secretary of Education, I’m going out to find several stiff drinks and a pack of cigarettes!

SHAME on you ‘Penc -il for simply filling in the box,
casting the tie-breaking vote for her confirmation!

I was previously unwilling to believe that Cabinet positions could be bought – and now that I have clear evidence that they can, I really don’t care how much longer I live in this country anymore.

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If you’d like some one-on-one (or group) coaching help quitting smoking – or with anything that came up while you were reading this article (for your own life, that of a loved one, or as coaching skills development), click the E-me link <—here (or on the menubar at the top of every page) and I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

Related Links here on

From the Walking A Mile in Another’s Shoes Series of Articles

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

59 Responses to Smoking: Additional reasons why it’s SO hard to quit

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  8. beetleypete says:

    Hi Madelyn. My smoking v vaping cost comparison post is now up on my blog.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. adeleulnais says:

    I smoke and I really empathized with your article. It is a coping mechanism for me. Borderline personality disorder, anorexia, abuse survivor, dyspraxic and the list goes on lol. Thank you for taking time to see the other side of the coin. x

    Liked by 1 person

  10. daisymae2017 says:

    Reblogged this on COUNTRY LIVING and commented:
    Interesting and Informative post. Everyone should read this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the reblog, Daisy/Daisymae — I’ll pop over in a moment and see if I can find your name somewhere, so my apologies if I’m way off base here. I’ve never been great with names, and its always been a sadness to me.

      Until my eyes started to age, I used to love name tags, but now popping on readers to check a name is more embarrassing than simply asking. ::sigh::

      Thanks for letting me know you reblogged this post too, btw.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. tmezpoetry says:

    Yeah smoking is a tough one, especially with severe adhd/add. It’s no longer a battle I wish to engage in. Everyone has their stuff whether it is demonized by society or not. But it is a good article for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. mistermuse says:

    Never having smoked in my entire life, I don’t feel qualified to comment on the subject. But I have become addicted to BLOGGING, and if you were to ask what it would take to get me to stop, I think a bullet to the brain might do the trick….but then I think how much the world would miss my brilliant and irreplaceable posts, and I just couldn’t pull the trigger. It’s a curse! 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  13. How refreshing to read and so true! I’ve been diagnosed with mild emphysema and am down to about five a day with the help of a vape (hate that word!) and feel a lot more confident this time that I’ll knock it on the head for good. Wish me strength.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – 9th February 2017 – Smoking, Dickens, Leftovers, Water Shortages and Children’s Illustrations | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  15. Bernadette says:

    I smoked for over 30 years and I can attest to humiliated never increased the chances of me stopping. Giving up cigarettes was like losing my best friend. It was worth it for sure. I just missed getting COPD by a hair. Thanks for writing about this whole issue from such a compassionate viewpoint.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Very thorough, and a different perspective on why the habit of smoking is so hard to kick.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Madelyn – very important topic. I had not really connected it with ADHD before, but it makes sense. Thanks. Doug

    Liked by 2 people

  18. robjodiefilogomo says:

    Here, Madelyn—let me be the devil’s advocate on this one. I don’t smoke, and I don’t love the smell or anything, but I almost feel bad for smokers nowadays.
    It still is a free country and we have free will, but it’s like they can’t smoke anywhere. Now I realize that it’s bad for the people around them inhaling the smoke, but I feel like so much of our life is “bad” for us. Right? There’s probably “bad” electrons coming from this computer I’m using or something!!
    But it’s interesting how the brain works with “addictions”. Heck, aren’t we all addicted to something? Technology, social media, food? Those are mine 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  19. -Eugenia says:

    I quit 10 yrs ago but puff on an e-cig – non-nicotine. It’s the hand to mouth thing that is hard to stop for me.


  20. So glad I was never a smoker. Enough passive smoking back in my days in clubs. Kids don’t know how good they have it. Smoking has been banned in venues these days. And even cafe spaces. Filthy habit!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. jac forsyth says:

    Great article, Madelyn. I quit smoking overnight, but what I’d done from that very first drag, was to have places I never smoked. It was easy then to just hang about in those places when I felt the creepers. I wanted to factor in a choice to quit. Addiction is such a part big of the human condition, I’m not sure why the mechanics of it are never taught in schools.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jac – and congrats for kicking the habit. The fact that you were ABLE to “hang out” in places you never smoked until the “creepers” passed probably indicates that you were dealing more with a bad habit, than a true addiction.

      Not everyone who drinks becomes an alcoholic – even those who drink regularly. I think that’s an important thing to keep in mind with ALL substances. Science still doesn’t understand why some people get addicted and others don’t.

      It WOULD be a good thing to teach at school, but with our new Sec. of Ed., I doubt that public school kids will be taught much of anything beyond, “Millionaires rule!” Thanks for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. IMHO it all comes down to whether you are born with an addictive nature or not. Some people are and try to stop smoking, but usually swap one addiction for another one. Others would feel angry that their brain is in control of them, and would stop smoking to show who is in control.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No doubt true — but what about the “core benefit” point?


      • Eh? Sorry, you’ll have to expand a bit on that one. Will get back this afternoon; off out now. x

        Liked by 1 person

        • Let me know where the content in the article is confusing. I’ll be more than happy to expand.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ah, I hadn’t read the other article. Some people then see it as necessary for their quality of life, and it’s probably these people who are terribly addicted. However, if my chain-smoking neighbour is anything to go by, smoking is not giving them any quality of life at all (he can hardly breathe after smoking for 60 years). Their opinion on what is necessary for their quality of life is out of kilter, and perhaps agreeing to undergo something like cognitive behavioural therapy might be able to help in re-directing their thoughts in a more positive direction. Other than that, quitting smoking is a personal choice which must be made by the individual alone, so that he/she doesn’t feel harassed or persecuted because of their habit, but motivated instead and with enough good reasons to want to improve their health all by themselves.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Of course nothing anybody could say or write will apply to everyone – humans are a complex and diverse species. Some people actually ARE addicted to the nicotine even when, like your neighbor, it is clear that it is harming them physically.

              But I also believe this issue (along with others) is not as straight-forward as it is portrayed by the “addiction” camp. I second your opinion that quitting must be a *personal* decision or it won’t happen – and I also believe that CBT would really help most smokers.

              Sorry that I didn’t put enough “core benefit” info into the Costs & Benefits section in THIS article, Stevie. It’s always a struggle for me between keeping things short enough that people will actually read the darned things, yet long enough to cover the content and make my points. I’ll keep working on it!

              Thanks for taking time from your life to read and ring in.

              Liked by 1 person

  23. No alcohol or drugs 15 years Mar 2. Still struggling with cigarettes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Congrats! I have been smoke-free for a some time now – but our current “leader” has encouraged me to believe that I need SOMETHING to deal with my overwhelming dismay.


      • I understand that. One way to deal with overwhelming dismay is to resolves some issues starting with little ones even if perhaps of little consequence. This validates us in that we can own our destiny in little increments at a time. So this is SOMETHING.

        Of course there is that “accept what we cannot change” stuff. On the other hand being in this contemporary world overwhelming dismay is normal. I am astonished at the dysfunction at every level. It has made me a cynical old pessimist.

        One example : I cannot even guess how much the Super Bowl show cost. Yet over 50,000 homeless veterans and 47% of US at or below the poverty level. Astonishing and certainly cause for dismay.

        But we start within our own little personal world and resolve to conclusion as much as was can. We may not like the resolution but at least it is out of the in box.
        mgh added white space for readability for those who struggle with longer strings of text – and formatting for emphasis; words unchanged

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Carl, for taking the time to reach out with this loving comment. It was helpful.

          I need to get this entire administration “out of the in box” if I am to have any quality of life going forward. I am having a great deal of difficulty shaking the fear of what they will do NEXT — I’m afraid for all of us, actually.

          One of the most difficult “things I cannot change” is that I cannot afford to expatriate. If I had taken better care of myself financially – by selling more and giving away or discounting much less – I would already be gone.

          I miss the patriotism I felt as a young woman, but I am no longer proud to be an American if SO much poverty – and incarceration – and disregard for the environment – is what this country believes is what it takes to remain “a first-world power.” Is that ALL that matters anymore? America First?

          And is this administration’s focus on what’s good for Corporate Capitalism any way at all to go about it?

          You are right, of course. I must find a way to make friends with the idea that, at this point, I can only “chop wood, carry water” – and endeavor to find solace in the doing. I just find it all so overwhelmingly disheartening – and sad.


          • Two things about corporate capitalism: the megabanks and megacorps have more power than most alleged sovereign nations and the right to vote is a mere illusion of democracy by the people. The working class must find a way to harness that power.

            The other thing about corporate capitalism is that Trump said early on that we need people that understand money to be running things not politicians. If that is who he places in economic leadership employment should grow. I am willing to wait and see. Trump will learn that running America is not like running a business with absolute administrative power.

            Ashamed of being an American ? Me too sometimes. I will curse Lyndon Johnson beyond my grave . Meaningless American deaths and tens of thousands of wounded and for what ? US killed a million Vietnamese. Hear that ? A million. Powerless rice farmers and for what ?

            Expatriate. ? I’ve tried. Very hard to get into other countries as they have control of their borders unlike US. “chop wood, carry water” ? As long as there are people that continue doing that a foundation remains and so does hope.
            mgh added white space for readability for those who struggle with longer strings of text; words unchanged

            Liked by 1 person

            • You are such a dear and gentle spirit, Carl. I need a hit of hope more now than ever before. Thank you for providing it.

              The thing that most Americans won’t look at is that he has not been, actually, a successful businessman — this man/child failed many, many times (and was funded by a rich Dad and rescued again by Reality TV). You don’t come back as easily when you “bankrupt” an entire country. No do-overs there – and nobody will be smiling at *that* reality show.

              Surrounding oneself with yes-men (like the Pencil) is not the most effective way to run a company OR a country (unless, of course, each and every one has MANY millions in escrow pledged to bail us out when his ideas don’t work).

              I’ll never be comfortable with the wait and see approach – anymore than I’d let my puppy wander into the middle of the road and wait to see what happens next.


  24. Lucy Brazier says:

    *stands up, claps, cheers, waves pom poms*

    Finally! A reasonable, sensible and realistic article on smoking! There are lots of things in life that are bad for us – in fact, nearly EVERYTHING is detrimental to health in one way or another if you believe everything you read. But life would be dull without a vice or two (or three, if you can possibly manage it 😉 )

    I agree with smoking bans in public places but what I chose to do in my private space is up to me and if I die young, so be it. When I think of the crazy, risky antics I got up to in my youth I’m surprised I’m not dead already, quite frankly.

    Of course smoking is bad, Of course my health would improve if I quit. Fat people would be healthier if they lost weight, but we’re not allowed to say that anymore because it’s ‘body shaming’.

    Liked by 1 person

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