When Your Quit-Smoking Support Isn't There, Support Yourself!

We at QuitNet make a big fuss about our 15-year old Qmunity of ex-smokers, and the difference it can make between saving or losing a quit. Interacting with other successful quitters is an effective behavioral quit-tool, because it helps defuse and reframe addictive thoughts and attitudes that can lead us to relapse, but what do we do when the Qmunity or our extended support network isn't available? If there's no one to visit, call, text, or email, are we doomed to fall for the 'just one' lie? What can we do to support ourselves during the riskiest moments?

Introducing The 5 D's

When I first started working with tobacco addicts over 20 years ago, the Four D's -- Delay, Distract, Drink Water, and Deep Breathe -- were already enshrined in quit-smoking conventional wisdom. Though there weren't any specific studies one could point to as proof that they worked, and the occasional skeptic even denounced them, ex-smokers had been using some or all of them for decades to manage their post-quit cravings. By the time of my own 1991 cold-turkey quit, a fifth D, Discuss, was added, and I've been sharing the Five D's with other quitters ever since.

Each of the FIVE D's encompasses a quit-smoking principle; any or all of them, applied to a current craving, can keep us safe even when there's no one else around to give us a hand. Even better, they help us develop the kind of mental and emotional discipline that can serve us in other areas of life. Here they are:

  • DELAY: This is a refinement of the 'One Day At a Time' principle. You don't have to worry about quitting for your entire life, you quit just for now. When an intense craving hits, you tell yourself, "Maybe in 15 minutes/5 minutes/1 minute, if I still think it's such a great idea, but I am not going to smoke right now." That buys you enough time to try one of the other D's and/or to get to the phone orQuitNet.
  • DISTRACT: You have two options -- sit and 'romance' the idea of smoking again, or get busy doing and thinking about something else. Hobbies, exercise, phone calls, whatever...Your peers at QuitNet can give you great distraction pointers.
  • DRINK WATER: Some believe that chugging cold water actually turns off cravings, but there's little clinical evidence of that. The operating principle here is the substitution of one behavioral action with another. Hand-to-mouth is a habit that's hard to break, and at the end of this hand-to-mouth action is water, not poison. Drinking water is also helpful for flushing nicotine and other tobacco toxins out of the body.
  • DEEP BREATHE: We instinctively know what to do when emotionally aroused and stressed, it's just that we used to include poison like tobacco smoke in those breaths! Now we can deep breathe the way we're meant to -- without the poison. Breathe in as slowly as you can through tightly pursed lips, and exhale the same way...Repeating a slogan while you do this, like, "I can stay quit regardless of anything or anyone", will help reinforce this D.
  • DISCUSS: The principle here is, "A problem shared is a problem halved." Urges to smoke are usually triggered by underlying tensions and/or strong emotions, and this D not only combines the other four, but adds the possibility of identifying or resolving causes and conditions. The motto I sometimes offer is, "If you don't talk it out, you might smoke it out!" If there's no one available to talk through your urge to smoke, you can journal, text, or email. Even a voicemail or text message as simple as, "I'm having a hard time, and don't want to smoke!" can help shift your thinking long enough to apply one of the other D's, or give you time to access more substantial support.

Although there's no guarantee that quit-threatening urges will disappear forever, the day will certainly come when lighting up a death stick doesn't even appear on your list of response options to life. You'll eventually develop a non-smoking self-image, and mental/behavioral quit-tools like the Five D's can do much to get you there. 

Keep coming, and KTQ,

Alan Peters, C-MTTS