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What Kind of Smoker Are You? 6 Personalized Approaches to Quitting Forever

Everyone smokes — and quits — for different reasons, and the key to getting smoke-free for life is to find out WHY you are smoking and then change those behaviors. Dr. Daniel Seidman, a smoking-cessation expert and the author of Smoke-Free in 30 Days, identifies the six most common “types” of smokers and offers each one a personalized approach to quitting forever.

  • If you are a Recreational or Social Smoker, you may feel that your limited smoking poses no serious medical harm to yourself or others. You may, however, ignore warning signs that your occasional smoking is progressing into addiction, especially during periods of stress or increased alcohol use. A periodic review of these warning signs may help motivate you to consider becoming smoke-free.
  • The Scared-to-Quit Smoker has no end of reasons (excuses) to put off going smoke-free to some future date. Sometimes it helps to focus on just quitting for one day. If you can quit for a day, you can quit every day. This realization can be a great confidence builder, and helps to decrease your fears about not smoking “ever again.” Forever is too big a word for many addicts; thus the old adage “Take it a day at a time.” Just try to make each and every smoke-free day a good one!
  • The Emotion-Triggered Smoker believes he or she needs the cigarette to handle life’s big and small problems. Once the emotional trigger to smoke becomes more conscious, you can use this awareness as a tool. Remember: if every time you have gotten angry for 20 years, you have taken a cigarette, this impulse will not vanish overnight. Wanting a cigarette will not hurt you. Human beings have all kinds of thoughts and feelings that in themselves are harmless if not put into action. If you are an emotion-triggered smoker, you need to keep your thoughts and feelings about smoking in the realm of your mind and not act on them. There is a saying: Don’t just do something, sit there. Let the feeling pass without smoking, and you’ll find over time that you can cope with it better than you ever imagined!
  • The Worried-about-Weight Smoker may be trying to live up to standards that breed dissatisfaction and discontent. Start by trying to decrease worries about weight rather than trying to lose it! The obstacle here may be fear of making a “reasonable compromise.” Yes, you may gain a few pounds, but you’ll do so much to improve your health. In life we often have a choice about how we wish to view a situation. Worrying about weight may keep you from considering other elements in your situation. Focus on other important realities, such as preserving your family life or your physical well-being or finding other (more creative and new) ways to increase your metabolism — like interval walking (alternating the speed of your pace). The confidence gained from becoming smoke-free will help you find new solutions to old problems, like weight, down the road.
  • The Alcoholic Smoker needs to distinguish between good guilt and shame and bad guilt and shame. Bad guilt and shame can paralyze you because of actions (or inactions) you may have taken in the past which hurt others or yourself. It is a counterproductive form of self-punishment. Good guilt can lead you to examine past actions, take stock of yourself, and learn to be the person you wish you had been all along. With bad guilt, you don’t forgive yourself for your alcoholism; you just feel bad about it. With good guilt, you can learn to forgive yourself and to live with your imperfections even as you dedicate yourself to trying to make changes in your life.
  • The Situational Smoker is different from the other kinds of smokers described above. In each of the other types (except the truly Recreational Smoker, who is not addicted), the smoker comes to realize that he or she has lost control over smoking, and that stopping completely is the only way to get back the lost control. Because these situational smokers stop relatively easily for periods of time, they never really believe they have lost control and thereby lose a powerful motivation for going smoke-free. They search for reasons why they smoke, as if these will spontaneously cure them, when mostly this fruitless search just perpetuates their situation.

Focusing on this smoking pattern as a product of pure behavioral conditioning may be more productive than searching for reasons you smoke. Once you stop smoking completely you’ll discover your triggers and can eliminate them from your life or learn to cope with them in new ways, without smoking.

Daniel F. Seidman, Ph.D., author of Smoke-Free in 30 Days: The Pain-Free, Permanent Way to Quit (Copyright © 2010 Daniel F. Seidman, Ph.D.), is a member of the Columbia University Behavioral Medicine Faculty, and a practicing psychotherapist. He is Assistant Clinical Professor of Medical Psychology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Director of Smoking Cessation Services at the Columbia University Behavioral Medicine Program.



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