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The Nicotine Patch Or Spiritual Solution?

In a new study published in the journal Tobacco Control, researchers from Harvard University’s Center for Global Tobacco Control, say that unfortunately, the nicotine patch and gum, don’t work. In contrast to positive medical studies, this study surveyed over 1000 participants who used over-the-counter tobacco control products in real-life settings and the results were dismal.

Even when smokers used the patch or gum with support groups or quit-smoking programs, they still smoked!

A recent NY Times article quotes one of the study’s leaders:

“We were hoping for a very different story,” said Dr. Gregory N. Connolly, director of Harvard’s Center for Global Tobacco Control and a co-author of the study. “I ran a treatment program for years, and we invested” millions in treatment services.

There’s been a lot of controversy about previous studies because of perceived bias and potentially influential funding so we were pleased to see that outcome of this study wasn’t in line with hopes of the researchers.

In addition to mental health counseling I’m also an addiction counselor with some specialties. I admit smoking cessation isn’t my top priority, however, I do want to say based on my clinical observations alone, a significant amount of adults and teens who abuse drugs or alcohol also smoke. Research demonstrates that there is a a correlation between tobacco use and illicit drug and alcohol abuse, especially in youth (though the link is not demonstrated to be causal). Anyone who’s ever attended a 12-step meeting for drugs or alcohol can tell you that’s a given.

At the risk of sounding obvious: Giving up smoking isn’t easy. Because cigarettes are widely available and in some cases, socially acceptable (although that is definitely on a meteoric downfall), and because the use of tobacco doesn’t impair one’s cognitive or physical abilities (unless of course you count breathing problems, coughing, and related diseases, etc.), they still aren’t perceived as “bad for you” in the same way, say, heroin is.

So, how do you quit, especially since the research is conflicted?

Here’s advice from a former patient, Ryan. Ryan’s an ex-smoker who is also an ex-drinker (he attends regular AA meetings) and ex-ecstasy user. He also used ayahuasca on several occasions. I really like his success story because he describes how smoking (and his drug and alcohol use) was a spiritual/soul issue for him and so was the solution. He also has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and is currently on medication which helps him successfully manage his symptoms. He shared the following in an email (and shortened a bit by C.R. and me):

“It wasn’t easy. I had to change my entire belief system. For me, well, I surprised myself. I realized that like alcohol and other drugs, cigarettes were part of the cover up for my inherent state of spiritual search and belief. After my belief system gradually began to shift through examination of myself and applying the 12 Steps, I kept asking myself, “Would the Creator want me to kill myself like this?” It worked and the patch, gum, even hypnosis, didn’t.

“I had a relapse once, for several months. Then, finally,  as long as I kept on telling myself to believe in myself, that my life is really worth living in good health, I was able to quit for what I hope is forever. I’d like to say I applied my 12 Steps to quitting smoking, but it didn’t work, at least not directly. 12 Steps worked for drugs and alcohol, but not smoking.

“As a college professor, I found that it was hard to avoid getting together with my colleagues in academia. We always seemed to get together over really good scotch or wine, it was part of our entire attitude which also sometimes included [tobacco] pipes or the occasional cigar.

“Also 12 Steps taught me about a Higher Power, which I admit I sneered at for many years before I actually attended a 12 Step program. I came to believe that we human creatures are created-I think I always actually believed it. That belief alone sustains me. (As you know that’s not necessarily a popular belief to have in the academic world). So we’re created. By extension, if we’re created, there’s a reason for it. Surely, that reason isn’t so I can hasten my death. That is a rejection of the gift of life.

“I guess desperation to stop letting anything control me was also a very strong motivator. I kept on telling myself I had free choice to do what I wanted. If I so chose, I could be free. When I first expressed my opinions I faced rejection even from my friends, especially my scotch and tobacco loving friends. I felt they’d rather see me drinking, smoking, and so on because otherwise, they’d have to examine what they were doing to themselves. I’m still in the process of figuring out how to reconcile my relationships with my sober, nicotine-free, self. I try to stay in touch with friends that do not go to bars or necessarily drink all the time.

“The biggest challenge at this point is trying to figure out how much of myself I can be in my professional environment. Although I’ve been on the receiving end of a few ad hominem attacks, I really do understand why people are bothered by my situation. I believe that in many cases it is because I ask the questions they bury. I never thought I’d be the kind of person that hides my beliefs but I am still wary of sharing my success story outside the bounds of 12 Step programs and my family.”

Why the gross photos? We didn’t want to trigger any smoking. Not sure if these were disgusting enough, but we hope so. 🙂

The Nicotine Patch Or Spiritual Solution?

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2019). The Nicotine Patch Or Spiritual Solution?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Mar 2019
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