If you have ADHD, chances are one of your New Year’s resolutions is to quit smoking.
Sadly, research shows that not only are more people with ADHD addicted to cigarettes, we’re more deeply addicted to them.
I’ve recently discovered a book called Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking.
Sir Richard Branson, famed Virgin Airlines entrepreneur, is an ex-smoker who has publicly acknowledged his ADHD. He’s also been a long-time advocate of Carr’s approach.
Carr’s book doesn’t focus on people with ADHD, but as I read it, I thought about our challenges and our inherent strengths. In addition to the phenomenal (and growing) success of Carr’s Easyway method (Ellen DeGeneres, Lou Reed, and Anjelica Huston all used it to kick the habit), here are some pluses to consider if you have ADHD and are trying to quit smoking.
Carr says that often, we’re not even aware that we’re smoking. Same goes for hyperfocus: we get lost in an activity for hours on end, thinking of nothing else.
What if we deliberately hyperfocused on something enjoyable when we had a nicotine craving? Set your timer for a half hour or so until the craving (or at least your vulnerability to it) passes.
Two sure-fire gateways to hyperfocus for me are: social media or reading a good book.
Lots of us have vivid imaginations. Why not put our imaginations to work for us by visualizing our lives as non-smokers? Imagine a huge bank account; radiant, glowing skin; or a new (smoke-free) relationship.
Or the opposite: visualize how extra-wrinkly, grey-skinned, and unattractive we’ll soon be if we don’t quit? (I prefer the more positive approach, but whatever works is worth it.)
Carr says using willpower to quit smoking doesn’t work. On the other hand, he claims that you have to make a solemn vow and stick to it in order to succeed.
So what’s the difference?
This question led me to tenacity, a trait ADHDers have in spades.
Willpower: energetic determination
Tenacious: tending to hold fast. 1a: not easily pulled apart: cohesive. tough…
2a: persistent in maintaining or adhering to something valued as habitual
– from my old pal, Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1986
Even the definition of “willpower” is flimsy: a mere desire or mindset rather than action; whereas tenacity means we have the inherent, steadfast ability to act.
Tenacity requires intellect (something with which we’re well endowed) and insight to define what we value. Carr’s book helps us to de-value smoking, replacing it with a higher value of freedom from smoking. It works. And we’re tenacious. So go for it!
Unique to us is that we may be smoking to self-medicate. Once we’ve been diagnosed and educated about ADHD, a whole new array of alternatives opens up, including stimulant (or other) ADHD medications to replace tobacco (also a stimulant).
Meditation, exercise, therapy, and lots more can help us to overcome our difficult ADHD traits, including addictions, leaving us free to hone the traits that serve us (creativity, tenacity, etc.)
Few of us consider smoking “cool” anymore; quite the opposite.
As an adult with ADHD, you’ve probably already had your share of being labelled “uncool;” “loser”; “weirdo,” or any other of the stigmatizing names we’ve been called since childhood.
Who needs one more reason to be stigmatized, criticized, or harshly judged? – all of which smokers routinely suffer for their addiction.
ADHDers are often told we’re “too honest,” but that’s why I resonate with Carr’s no-BS approach. Without resorting to scare tactics, he’ll bluntly call smoking a “filthy” habit. Would any self-respecting, no-nonsense ADHDer dare to disagree?
While black or white thinking often gets ADHDers into trouble, this trait can be a huge help when you’re trying to butt out.
Here’s an example from Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking:
“How can you say ‘I want to be a non-smoker’ and then say ‘I want a cigarette’? Smokers smoke; non-smokers don’t. You have to decide. You already know what you want, so stop playing these ridiculous games with yourself by sabotaging this process and depriving yourself of the chance at a life of health, happiness and freedom.” (p. 144)
“It’s inevitable that you will think about smoking. It’s what you are thinking that counts.” (Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking, p. 143)
Carr’s book reinforces what I’ve long believed: perspective can make or break you.
Learning to change your inner dialogue from, “I’m such an idiot,” to “Man, I’m hilarious!” when you’ve walked into a room and done or said something socially awkward or klutzy makes all the difference. Even if you’re the only one laughing, doesn’t it feel better (and healthier) than mentally beating yourself up?
Same goes for quitting the nasty nicotine. It feels far better to think, “I’m amazing. I’ve quit for 5 whole minutes!” than, “OMG! Five minutes and I’m already ready to kill somebody! I can’t take it any more!”
We’re not trained to use positive self-talk; it’s up to us to teach ourselves. It might take a bit (or a lot) of work, but you definitely DO have a choice. I know because over the years, I’ve learned (and continue to practice this habit).
Good luck, and please let us know how it goes if you decide to use Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking.
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Wilens, Timothy E., Michael Vitulano, Himanshu Upadhyaya, Joel Adamson, Robert Sawtelle, Linsey Utzinger, Joseph Biederman. 2008. Cigarette smoking associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The Journal of Pediatrics. 153(3):414-9.
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Last reviewed: 4 Jan 2013