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Withdrawal from Alcohol and Nicotine

Recovering from Alcohol and Nicotine Addiction

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Updated August 22, 2010

Withdrawal from Alcohol and Nicotine
Maggie

Withdrawal From Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol was like a chemical hand grenade that had explosive effects on all of the neurotransmitters in my brain. My withdrawal from alcohol took me through indescribable physical and mental torture: sweating, violent trembling and horrid hallucinations. This agony continued for a few days. It took a few more days before I could eat or swallow a teaspoon of water without vomiting. When I was able to eat and drink fluids, my strength returned. Exercise helped and I began to feel well in a few weeks. It took several more weeks before I could sleep well.

Withdrawal From Nicotine Addiction

While my withdrawal from nicotine was physically less dramatic, I experienced intense symptoms of anxiety and an unrelenting mental/emotional pressure to smoke. If nicotine affected fewer neurotransmitters in my brain, it left a deeper indelible mark. Despite making it through the “hell week” of nicotine cessation and despite my total commitment to do the work to become smoke-free, I struggled with cravings for weeks. I read that cravings are not commands, but my cravings seized me like commands and I felt almost powerless over them. I realize that the willpower method of dealing with any addiction yields few results but, in my experience, I had to use willpower to choose to use the smoking cessation aids suggested on the forum. And I had to use willpower to choose not to buy one more last pack of cigarettes when my strongest cravings came in the evening -- my twilight triggers.

Nothing, including the death of my husband, major surgery and other hardships, has ever prompted me to think of drinking. Everything, good times as well as tough times and plain ordinary times, were triggers for smoking. I believe that this is true because nicotine has permanently wired my brain and embedded addictive patterns in my thinking.

For years, my addictive thinking whispered that since I had stopped drinking I really had a right to at least one bad habit. Nicotine had so warped my brain that I told myself that, because I had no major medical problems, was swimming one mile several times a week without huffing and puffing and had maintained a healthy diet, smoking was not damaging my body. I ignored the warning signs of a nasty cough and occasional phlegm. I consider it a gift of grace that deep in my spirit underneath this junkie thinking there was an angst about being addicted to nicotine. It was this gnawing discomfort that prompted me to search for a smoking cessation group on the Internet.

During the entire first year of my nicotine quit, I clung to the testimony of those who were smoke-free. The cravings softened and became periodic urges which in turn simmered down to fleeting thoughts. Most importantly, I learned not to entertain the smoking thoughts. While I was freed from the compulsion to drink on the day I joined A.A., it took a full year of hard work to experience freedom from nicotine addiction.

In my experience, nicotine conditioned my brain in a far more powerful way than alcohol. Even if I feel free from slavery to nicotine, I still have occasional smoking thoughts. Because of the mental nature of nicotine addiction and the permanent patterns it etched in my brain, I believe I will have to maintain a great vigilance over my smoking quit. It is a wise tradition on the smoking cessation forum to invite members to add “wings” to their signature only when they have five years smoke-free.

I have a quit date for my last drink and another for my last cigarette. Those dates mark the end of years of slavery and the beginning of my on-going spiritual journey of recovery.

Freedom, Vigilance and Gratitude

This is my simple truth: I have achieved freedom from slavery to my addictions but I remain an addict. I can never have one drink or one cigarette because it would take only one to fuel my addictions and send me back to a state of bondage. I am certain that I will never drink again. That certainty is not cocky — it is contingent upon fidelity to my A.A. commitment. I recognize that, with a one-year nicotine quit, I have a fragile freedom. I am confident that, if I “keep it green,” stay humble, pray, maintain a peaceful vigilance and try to help others who desire to recover from nicotine addiction, I will remain a non-smoker.

Even though I worked hard to reach freedom, I have a sense that I am a miracle of God’s grace which came to me through the work of those who founded places of recovery like Alcoholics Anonymous and About.com Smoking Cessation. I am a miracle in the on-going process of a life that is joyous, free and full of gratitude.

~Maggie

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