Research Suggests Change in Approach Needed For Smoking Addiction Therapy

Quitting smoking or overcoming reliance on other behaviors—such as eating, drinking alcohol, drinking caffeine, sex, excessive exercise, and others—can be difficult. From addiction counseling and group therapy to nicotine-reduction aids and cold-turkey self motivation, there are any number of approaches for how to quit or reduce a habit. One mental strategy that many rely on is suppressing their thoughts of that specific habit. So, for example, suppressing thoughts of cigarettes and smoking when they arise. A new study sought to explore whether thought suppression techniques bear out in long-term behavioral changes, and used cigarette smoking as a way to test the method.

Previous studies have found that being told not to think about something is difficult in the short-term. Specifically, people told not to think about chocolate ate more chocolate. But the smoking study was different. Researchers wanted to know not only what would happen over the course of weeks, but also what would happen after the thought-suppression technique had stopped. Over a 3 week period, people who started at over 10 cigarettes a day were monitored regularly. The first week, everyone smoked as usual. The second week, one group was told to suppress their thoughts of cigarettes, another was told to express their thoughts, and a third served as a control. The third week, they were told to discontinue the expression/suppression technique.

The results were striking: while the thought-suppression group smoked the least during week 2, they rebounded so far in week 3 that they actually smoked more than they had at the outset. This suggests that a “don’t let yourself think about it” approach to addiction therapy may not only be ineffective, but may even make things worse. Overcoming an addiction involves more than initial abstinence or initial reduction. Working to develop a course of addiction therapy that also helps people stick with the change over time is essential.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • jason donovan

    jason donovan

    August 18th, 2010 at 10:12 AM

    I read somewhere that a craving lasts for about five minutes at the maximum. So it would make perfect sense to actually get involved in an activity for a few minutes and let the craving pass you. You can slowly gain more and more control of this and quit whatever you’re addicted to and want to quit!

  • sandra

    sandra

    August 19th, 2010 at 4:47 AM

    KInd of the same thing with dieting for me. The more I try not to think about a certain food the more I crave it, and then by the time I finally let myself have it, i might eat a whole chocolate cake instead of the one piece that I initially wanted. Maybe trying to stop smoking is a little different from this, maybe it is not. But I just know that trying to stop anything cold turkey generally does not work well for me. Maybe they should try to find somehting else that could occupy them and help them to focus on something other than cigarettes. I know that sounds simplistic but I know that sometimes even just a short walk will help me stop thinking about the fattening food that I want to eat and helps me focus more on how I want to get healthy.

  • RICK

    RICK

    August 19th, 2010 at 5:46 AM

    I was struggling to quit smoking but following a friend’s suggestion helped me quit finally. I would start doing something important and immerse myself into it whenever I felt like smoking. If there was nothing to do, I would just call someone and spend some time till I lost the craving. it really works :)

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