Five Years Smoke Free: How I Quit a 9 Year Pack a Day Habit

June 27th, 2016 | Posted by Erica House in Life

It’s amazing how bad habits go so well together.

The photos below were taken in my mid 20’s during my binge drinking, chain smoking and fast food eating days.

It ain’t pretty.

Overweight Smoker

I started smoking when I was 19. I didn’t know anyone who smoked and I just wanted to see what it was like. I stopped at a gas station on the way to the gym one day and bought a pack of Marlborough lights. I would smoke one maybe once a day on the way to the gym (how ironic). Eventually, I started dating guys who smoked and my smoking increased to over a pack a day. I kept this pace up for 9 years. Like most smokers I tried to quit a few times before I finally quit for good in June 2011.

One of the biggest side affects from quitting, that I was unprepared for the first few times I tried, was mild depression and increased anxiety. Without getting to technical on you (I taught a Drugs & Behavior course that goes into this topic in depth!) nicotine effects the dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine = you feeling awesome. After 8 years of my dopamine receptors being artificially stimulated every time I smoked it was a struggle to experience the normal pleasure in life without them.

After doing some research on quitting I found a few websites recommending the use of St. Johns Wort as a aide in smoking cessation. St. Johns Wort is an herbal supplement available over the counter that has been proven to assist with mild depression (5HTP is another great supplement to look into for anxiety.) The research on it’s effectiveness with quitting smoking is mixed, at best. Some studies have found it does help, some have found that it doesn’t help, and the American Cancer society believes it may assist but further research needs to be done.

The other difficult thing I found was having to deal with my emotions again without nicotine. When I was a smoker I’d smoke to deal with any emotion: stress, anxiety, loneliness, anger, frustration, happiness … a cigarette was appropriate at any time! One of the best pieces of advice I came across when I was trying to quit was to view quitting as the loss of a friend. This, thing, that has been there for you and comforted you 24/7 is suddenly gone. Be prepared to mourn!

Finally, don’t let yourself get caught up in future thinking. My biggest meltdowns came when I’d start dwelling on, “omg I’ll never have a smoke again after a good meal” or “I’ll never be able to have coffee and cigarettes” … don’t do it! When you find yourself thinking those things just take a breath and focus on the present craving. If you can get through those 5 minutes (the average length of a craving) you’ll be fine. Remember, you’re not quitting forever. Just today.

I stopped taking herbal supplements when I became pregnant and have not resumed any since I am nursing. I’ve been working with a counselor for six month on learning to manage my anxiety via retraining my brain and how I think about things, meditation, and stress reducing exercises like yoga and walking. It felt like my anxiety became intense ‘out of nowhere’, but looking back over my life I can see I was just self-medicating with nicotine for most of my twenties.

If you are addicted to smoking I would strongly encourage you to look into counseling to support you as you quit. You may be self-medicating as well and without extra support remaining smoke free could be extremely difficult. You owe it to yourself, and the people who love you, to do whatever it takes to quit.

For further help quitting please follow these links:

American Cancer Society’s Guide to Quitting Smoking

Quit Smoking Today! from

The Center for Disease Control and Preventions Guide to Quitting Smoking

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4 Responses

  • I smoked on and off for years too. After I entered recovery it was a huge crutch for me before I actually learned how to deal with some of my emotions. I still love the smell of a freshly lit cigarette but thankfully I haven’t smoked one in about 5 years!

    • Erica House says:

      I love, love, loved your post last week about medications. I’ve been debating starting some myself as it’s been soooo much work to reduce my anxiety the tiny amount that I have, and I’m reaching the point I feel like I’ve exhausted all options on dealing with it on my own.

      • Aw thank you! If you have any questions, just shoot me an email and I’d be happy to give you my experience. I feel like based on what I’ve read, you’ve been trying lots of different options, so if they’re still not working, I’d at least broach the topic w your doctor. Sometimes we just need a little extra help!

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