For Concerned Friends and Family of Nicotine Users
This pamphlet contains information about Nicotine Anonymous (NicA) and nicotine addiction. We offer suggestions for those who are concerned about a tobacco or nicotine user. Our intent is to expand the circle of understanding and mutual support for those who are struggling to gain freedom from nicotine.
WHAT IS NICOTINE ANONYMOUS?
We are not a medical organization. Our understanding comes from our own personal experience with nicotine dependence and our process of gaining nicotine independence. A concise description of Nicotine Anonymous is: Nicotine Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women helping each other to live our lives free of nicotine. We share our experience, strength, and hope with each other so that we may be free from this powerful addiction. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop using nicotine. There are no dues or fees for Nicotine Anonymous membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. Nicotine Anonymous is not allied with any sect, denomination, political entity, organization or institution, does not engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any cause. Our primary purpose is to offer support to those who are trying to gain freedom from nicotine. (Our Preamble, reprinted for adaptation with permission of the A.A. Grapevine)
Nicotine Anonymous received permission from Alcoholics Anonymous to adapt their Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions for this program of recovery from nicotine. The Steps are suggestions to guide a member’s recovery. Each member uses them in their own way. The Steps and Traditions are based on universal spiritual principles. However, we certainly are not a religious organization, nor are we simply a smoking-cessation program. The recovery process offers the gift of a "spiritual awakening" within each member’s own understanding.
Nicotine Anonymous does not impose any formal creed or require members to believe in God or a Higher Power. This spiritual source can simply be the spirit of togetherness at NicA meetings. Each person comes to their own understanding of a spiritual connection. We only ask that newcomers keep an open mind and respect the beliefs of others.
Nicotine is officially classified as a poisonous alkaloid that is highly addictive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 9 out of 10 of those trying cigarettes go on to become nicotine addicts. Since 90% of cigarette smokers started before age 19, Dr. David Kessler, the former director of the FDA, considers nicotine addiction to be a "pediatric disease." According to the Centers for Disease Control, various vaping devices enable a user to ingest higher doses of nicotine than cigarettes with each inhalation.
We describe nicotine as cunning, baffling, powerful, and patient. We experienced the addiction as a disease of the body, mind, and spirit. Addiction is not an ongoing disease because of a lack of will power or a deficiency of moral character. Many powerful and moral people have used nicotine and failed at attempts to quit. Nicotine generates a physical compulsion combined with a
mental obsession to use more nicotine. Nicotine addiction also impaired our spiritual connection to a Power greater than ourselves. When we continually reached for nicotine, we increasingly placed our faith in nicotine.
Most users will maintain a level that balances with their state of nicotine tolerance. This is a point where withdrawal symptoms are held in check. For example, one person’s level could be a few cigarettes a day, another’s could be four or five packs a day.
Those of us who are addicted to nicotine may have an opportunity to recover our freedom and health through our abstinence from nicotine, but we are never "cured" of the addiction. If we use, we lose. Almost always, "just one" will lead to two, then three, then thousands more. We have a slogan, “I’m a puff away from a pack a day.”
Addiction requires self-diagnosis. The user needs to identify the symptoms and admit there is a problem. It is up to each nicotine user to determine and admit, "I am addicted to nicotine." We have found that nagging, criticism, and unsolicited advice often incites an addict’s defensiveness and anger.
Not only can it be difficult for a nicotine user to accept that they are addicted, it can also be difficult for those close to the addict to accept this fact. Nicotine was only officially recognized as addictive in the 1980s. Historically, the term, "addict," has had a stigma attached to it. Also, admitting there is a problem initiates an expectation to take action and make changes. This may cause anxiety about potential discomforts and upheavals for everyone.
Many addicts, along with those who care about them, can experience a state of mind known as denial. This is when we ignore, block out, and remain unaware of actual conditions and consequences that confront us. It is a human response, a defense mechanism that leads to avoidance of threatening or undesirable situations.
Addiction creates a mental obsession that nicotine is necessary to function. We believed we had a "need" for nicotine. When there was any lapse in our dosage it initiated withdrawal symptoms. These discomforts further suggested that we could not "live without it." Our thinking was distorted and we either denied the real truth of our behavior or made excuses.
Until a serious consequence related to nicotine use is painfully obvious, many may argue, "There is no problem." The troubling behavior of alcohol and narcotic abusers makes it much more obvious that they have a problem. In contrast, NicA members come to realize how profoundly and subtly nicotine addiction has impacted all areas of their lives, at home, at work, financially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Those of you who have attempted to address your concerns with a nicotine user often have a disturbing experience that may leave you frustrated, confused, disappointed, hurt, angry, or scared. Rarely will you find an addict who responds to another’s concerned remarks with, "Yes, you’re right, thank you, I’ll stop using nicotine right now." Even with the best intentions, attempting to get between an addict and their drug can lead to an unpleasant encounter. Sometimes, as everyone’s emotions escalate, it precipitates more drastic attempts to control the
addict’s behavior while the addict becomes more resistant. It may be just as difficult for you to accept that you are powerless to make anyone stop using nicotine as it is for nicotine users to accept that they are powerless over nicotine.
If you have never been a nicotine user/addict, it may be baffling and difficult to understand how someone can continue to engage in such dangerous behavior. Most non-users find the smell of tobacco smoke or its taste to be unpleasant and may find it hard to imagine why anyone would want to do it.
If you are a former tobacco or nicotine user and it was fairly easy for you to quit, it may be difficult to understand why another nicotine user continues to fail at quitting. One of nicotine’s baffling qualities is that its grip is not the same for everyone.
THEY WANT TO QUIT, BUT…
A common wish of nicotine users is that some magic day will arrive when the craving will disappear or an absolutely painless way to stop using nicotine will be found. Typically, addicts can always find an excuse they call “a reason” as to why now is not a good time to try to quit.
Usually before nicotine users attempt to quit, they have experienced an escalating series of consequences resulting from using nicotine. For many, it is a downhill ride that only they or some disease will determine how far down it will go. For many, it could be fatal.
Many nicotine users will say, "I want to stop," but then continue to use. You may not understand how someone can’t stop when they want to stop. A disease of compulsion and obsession continually interferes with the ability to make sane choices and change behavior.
For many nicotine users, nicotine has been a "constant companion" and is associated with almost every activity and place in their daily routine. In addition to physical withdrawal symptoms, there is also a normal discomfort reflex that something is "missing" or "wrong" with their usual pattern of experience.
Nicotine users may use even more as their anxiety about quitting increases. Some may go through periods of reducing the amount they use, only to return to previous levels. Smokers may switch to "lighter" brands, but end up smoking more in order to maintain nicotine levels.
Nicotine users may attempt to limit when and where they use, e.g., not in the bedroom, only outdoors, not in front of children, only at night.
Prior to joining NicA, some members sought help from physicians, hypnotists, psychiatrists, acupuncturists, self-help books, and countless smoking-cessation programs. Sometimes they were able to quit, but they could not stay quit.
Our program is one of rigorous honesty. Tobacco smoke is as dangerous to non-smokers as firsthand smoke is to smokers themselves. In 2020, the World Health Organization* reported that 1.2 million non-smokers die or contract diseases annually as a result of continued exposure to tobacco smoke. Expectant parents who smoke pose serious health risks to their baby. Dilution, ventilation, or air cleaning are all unacceptable methods for the control of the lung cancer or heart disease risks of secondhand smoke (OSHA, 1994).
Although you cannot make someone quit smoking/vaping, you may want to ask that the air you breathe not endanger your health or the health of children too young to ask. The smoker/vaper may not welcome this request. If they are attending meetings and have a sponsor, you might consider asking that secondhand smoke be a topic they discuss.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Unless a nicotine user has at least an inkling of a desire to quit, constructive dialogue may be very difficult, if not impossible. We have found that it is helpful in challenging situations to recite the Serenity Prayer.
God, grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can
and wisdom to know the difference.
Many nicotine addicts have gotten free through joining NicA. However, according to our Eleventh Tradition, this fellowship is "based on attraction rather than promotion." We accept that this program may not be for everyone and works best when someone feels drawn to it, not lured in.
After you have read this pamphlet, you may want to provide the nicotine user with some of our other literature "to look over and consider." Avoid beginning a sentence with, "You should...". Remember, if you push, the addict may push back. Nicotine users may not welcome this information. However, if you are familiar with this material, you will be prepared to correct mistaken assumptions about Nicotine Anonymous and nicotine addiction.
If the nicotine user is willing to read our literature, you can offer to listen to what they think about it. If you are invited into this process, you can be a source of caring support, patient encouragement, and an interested listener. Recovery is no small task for either of you, but there can be many rewards for the effort.
To addicts, change usually arouses fear and a sense of losing control. Although they are involved in the life-threatening behavior of addiction, it is one that is familiar to them. Therefore, as an adult, life without nicotine may be completely unknown.
Accepting help is often very difficult for nicotine addicts. Many of us lived behind a "smoke screen" as if it was our refuge from other people. Anticipating the possibility of a failed quit in
front of friends and family could lead to expectations of ridicule and shame. However, coming to meetings and experiencing the mutual support of fellow addicts can ease this concern.
If a nicotine addict is willing to go to meetings, you might offer to drive, prepare meals, or watch their children. There may be any number of ways to facilitate attendance at meetings.
Our Twelfth Tradition reminds members that this is an anonymous program and confidentiality is essential. When they return from a meeting you may discuss what was said at meetings, but please refrain from asking who was there or who said what. In addition, this Tradition guides us to keep the focus on the principles of the program rather than individual personalities.
If it is a meeting where friends and family are welcomed, they may want to invite you to come along for support or to listen to what others have to share.
You might offer to participate in any new healthy activities they decide to start.
With respect for each person’s own understanding, we have found prayer to be a powerful and mutually beneficial experience.
Recovery can have its highs and lows. During the initial weeks of nicotine withdrawal, temporary moodiness and difficulty with concentration are not unusual. The moodiness may be extreme at times, but this is not to suggest that withdrawal is a license to be mean-spirited.
If withdrawal from nicotine causes irritability, you might be tempted to suggest that they have just one to ease the discomfort. This will only prolong the withdrawal process. Further, it may lead right back into full active addiction. A better suggestion would be that they consider the meeting’s group contact list.
It is not uncommon for a nicotine addict to stop for months or even years and in a weak or defiant moment have just one. In no time at all, they most likely will find themselves right back in the nightmare again. Sometimes it is just a temporary relapse. This is not an uncommon occurrence. Recovery is not always a forward process, but experienced as a series of learning opportunities.
HOW THIS PROGRAM WORKS
We found that being guided by this program helped us from getting lost along the way and delivered us from the grip our active addiction. Since there is no cure, we remain mindful that this is a journey we pursue one day at a time.
This is a gentle program that each member takes at their own pace. Through mutual support and by practicing the program’s principles we make progress. We share a common struggle, but we also share laughter which helps lighten the journey.
Physical, emotional, and spiritual recovery takes time. It is a process, not a singular event. Offering service to the fellowship is one of the Tools of recovery. We hope that our friends and
relatives understand the value of our investing this time and energy which can benefit everyone benefit.
In the beginning of recovery, they may surprise you with enthusiasm about their new spiritual experiences. For the addict it can feel miraculous not to be using nicotine every few minutes.
The Twelve Step approach has been helpful to addicts as well as their relatives and friends. Al-Anon, a Twelve Step fellowship, has been a valuable source of mutual support and self-awareness for the family and friends of alcoholics. We hope that someday the loved ones of nicotine addicts who seek the benefits of mutual support will form a Twelve Step fellowship for themselves. In the meantime, we encourage you to consider using these Steps for yourself as well. Remember, as with all aspects of this program, we invite you to use what helps and consider the rest.
By reading our other literature you can further your understanding of this program. If you have other questions, you can ask a member after a meeting, or send a letter or email to the addresses listed below. We appreciate your desire to help the nicotine addict and hope our program offers a better understanding of nicotine addiction and recovery.
Is this information helpful?
Please consider making a donation to support Nicotine Anonymous World Services (Tradition Seven) cover the costs of carrying our message of recovery to all nicotine addicts who seek recovery (Tradition Five).