Let’s begin this on a positive note. If addiction has taught me anything, it’s that we have the ability to go to great lengths — above and beyond, exceeding expectations, and overcoming hurdles — to get what we want, if we really want it. We won’t let fear, social, or legal repercussions get in our way. We can achieve what seems impossible if we set our minds to it and allow our bodies to become physiologically addicted to it.
We can be addicted to emotions, so whether or not this piece resonates with you, I want you to take a moment to think of the emotions you’re addicted to and whether you can use the principles and steps listed below to replace one addictive emotion with another. Then, taper off and balance it out. Let’s call it emotional harm reduction.
Now, let’s begin. This is how I quit my 8-year-long addiction to vaping (nicotine). My methods were compiled from extensively studying the science and psychology of addiction. Good luck, and may the odds be in your favor. And, feel free to reach out with your success — and, preliminarily unsuccessful stories — to email@example.com
- Go back to where it started.
I love freedom. I value freedom. And, a vape brought forth rebellion that was associated with freedom, and I loved it. After I hacked my psyche, I realized that I could tap into freedom at any time because that feeling exists within me. I began to mentally train myself to tap into a specific memory where I felt free. I did it so often that just the word “freedom” would invoke a deep-seated feeling of relaxation and joy. Conversely, I began to view my vape as something pitiful. I was a prisoner to it. I began to use the word “addict” to describe myself repeatedly. I would remind myself that I am a prisoner to it, a slave to my whims. While someone out there is benefiting from my subservient nature. The thought of it alone began to turn me off. I continuously reminded myself that even though it was a socially acceptable addiction, it was still an addiction, and I am an addict. And, addicts are not free.
2. Figure out why you continued.
I couldn’t depend on much in life (except misery — kidding!), but I could depend on my vape for safety and stability. I would have mini-panic attacks with the mere thought of losing my vape. One day, I realized that I was externalizing my sense of safety and stability. So, I began to shift my sense of security and dependability from the external to the internal. This took a good amount of inner work — a form of deep introspection that occurred over a period of over a year. I traced it back to the first feeling: when did I first learn that it was unsafe to depend upon myself for safety and security? For myself, that took me back to my childhood. I indeed was a child that could not depend upon myself for my sense of safety and security. However, nowadays, I am an adult, and as an adult, I wield power. I began to visualize and re-visualize the moments in my childhood when I felt unsafe and scared. I soothed and spoke to myself the way I wish someone spoke to me. I did this enough times throughout the process that I began to truly trust myself and trust in my ability to take care of me — no matter what happens.
3. Honesty and awareness are reliable; willpower isn’t.
You wake up with a limited amount of willpower, and you spend it throughout the day. By the end of the day, you’re usually running low on willpower. You can only replenish it through sleep, making this system unreliable and inefficient. I knew I had to be honest with myself. My first honest thought was my love for my vape. I truly, sincerely, absolutely loved it. It was like a toxic relationship. You know you have to end it, but it’s so good. I began to savor it, taking in each moment and mentally documenting it. No more mindless puffing and huffing. I wanted to appreciate every moment before I said goodbye. Ironically, this made me realize that I didn’t love everything about it. I began to notice the drawbacks, like the thirst, the aftertaste, and the stains. You’d be surprised at what you notice once you start paying attention. By the end of it, my vape was no longer perfect and on a pedestal. It had flaws. After focusing on the good for so long, it was time to embrace the bad. And, just like with a toxic ex, at some point, you fall out of love, and I was falling fast.
4. Harm reduction model > abstinence model.
There are two main forms of addiction treatment: the abstinence model and the harm reduction model. The first involves cutting an addictive substance out completely, while the second involves tapering off, slowly reducing the amount (or switching to something less harmful) until you reach zero. The abstinence model works for some people, but I prefer a gradual change, as an abrupt one feels too overwhelming. So, I chose to taper down. I customized vape nicotine bottles to reduce the nicotine content from 3mg to 2mg to 1mg, and finally to zero. Once the physiological addiction eased, I was able to slowly desensitize myself from the physical act of holding the device. I began keeping it at a distance and making it less accessible, making it easier to replace vaping with deep, intense breaths and allowing myself to get distracted. Without the physiological cravings, it was easier to move on with life. I was ready to move on.
5. Stock up and replace dopamine with dopamine, habits with habits.
The dopamine theory is one of the predominant ideas in the neuroscience of addiction. It states that when we’re addicted, dopamine is what we continuously seek to chase and fulfill, making it a fundamental pillar of addiction. Dopamine is a powerful neurotransmitter that is meant to be produced in tiny amounts. Fortunately and unfortunately, we live in a world created to tap into that tiny amount. Attention is the new oil, and I knew I could utilize the dopamine-stealing world to my advantage. First, I had to ensure I had enough dopamine, which meant eating well, sleeping well, working out, and stocking up on Tyrosine-rich foods. Tyrosine is the amino acid that dopamine is built from. If you have a shortage of tyrosine, you probably have a shortage of dopamine. Second, I gave myself the green light to indulge in a dopamine slot machine: TikTok. I allowed myself to swipe into oblivion, and I won’t lie — I enjoyed every moment of it.
6. Avoid isolation and bring in social distraction
Ordinarily, mice don’t want heroin or cocaine water. They’d much rather not drink it. This makes being an addiction research scientist difficult because, in order to conduct their studies, they need addicted mice. So, how do you create addicted mice? You isolate them. Then, they’ll be willing to drink your cocaine water. Hence, while curbing addiction, socialization is your friend — with sober people, that is. So, when planning your sobriety, make sure you intentionally keep yourself socially busy with the right people.
7. Change environments
During the Vietnam War, numerous soldiers took up a heroin habit. Naturally, this was highly concerning — what would happen once they went back home? Unexpectedly, a lot of them ditched the drug habit and continued their lives addiction-free. But, how? The answer lies in our subconscious. Our bodies are highly intelligent and sensitive to our surroundings; our subconscious picks up cues from the environment. These cues trigger our mental systems. Thus, once an environment is changed, a person that was once surrounded by cues is now relatively stimuli-free. Instead of waking up with cues to snort a line, they now wake up with cues to hug their loved ones. Do not underestimate the impact of environments and mental subconscious systems.
8. Build a new identity.
Self-sabotage is when your old identity gets in the way of your new identity. This concept was clearly explained by Mina Efran and it resonates with the essence of behavioral dysregulation. “Who am I?” is an essential question that you ought to ask yourself regularly and update in alignment with your sense of life direction. Now, I urge you to take this a step further and clearly define who you were and who you are now. In sync with my cyber-humanistic psychological theory, “The Guide to Hacking Your Psyche”, I personally label each identity with a number, Deena 3.0, Deena 4.0. I create a table and list my perspective on each aspect of my life: health, start-up, success, relationships. This serves as a visual reminder of identity update separation. Furthermore, when I catch myself self-sabotaging, I consciously redirect my mind with grounding techniques. I repeat my name, age, physical location, and my current and latest updated perspective — that was Deena 2.0 who did that; we’re on update 4.0 now. However, importantly, I want you to be gentle with yourself. So, as we build an update upon our old identity, I want you to view your past with love, compassion, and respect. I find this to be much gentler than “killing/getting rid of” the old you. I believe that enhancing oneself isn’t belittling the ‘old you’; rather, it’s being gracious, thankful, and respectful towards your previous limitations. You could ask yourself, “How could I respect myself if I know what I did?” You’re alive, aren’t you? You ought to forgive yourself for the actions that you committed during “survival mode”. Things can change, life can turn around; give yourself a chance. It truly does get better. So, please built your new identity.
9. Practice active compassion.
What do addicts and complex trauma survivors have in common? They carry a lot of shame. They feel ashamed to exist. They feel as though they’re a burden to society. They don’t deserve any good. They probably deserve to die; what’s the point anyway? After all, they’re a burden. A burden upon their loved ones. A burden upon society. They loathe themselves. Unfortunately, this makes them want to use/dissociate even more, which then brings on shame. This creates a repetition of a vicious, rigorous cycle — one that unfortunately leads to an untimely and preventable ending.
But, what’s the point of hating ourselves? If you view reality for what it is, you began the addiction to soothe and make yourself happy. In a dysfunctional, twisted way, you were actually looking out for yourself. So as you shift your identity, you can do it gradually. The 1.0 version of myself is a user with no intention of quitting. My 1.2 version of myself is one that is attempting to quit by reading this article and implementing some of its concepts. After all, this is a marathon, a journey, not a sprint. It might take time to change, and that’s okay. As long as you have an ultimate objective and goal of sobriety, one way or another, you’ll get there. You’re allowed to dream, and you can imagine yourself sober and happy. I know it might sound wild and impossible, but if you look around — the concept of the internet, airplanes, trees, and planets sound weird, wild, and impossible. But, they’re real. Everything that’s been invented was once a daydream. A fantasy that became reality. Other people were able to quit and rebuild their lives into something better — so can you; don’t let the bastards bring you down. You know the ridiculous things you’ve done to score? Don’t tell me you’re not capable of going above and beyond. You’re just directing that energy in the wrong direction; nothing a simple redirection can’t fix.
This is a reminder that there’s a chance you’ll be able to quit on your first attempt. But, there’s a chance you won’t be able to. It took me one attempt to stop nicotine, but it previously took me five to get off antidepressants. It was such an endless nightmare, a bespoke hell, that today I marvel at how I am actually alive after all that. I actually didn’t unalive myself — woohoo!
But, on the other side of the darkness, the misery, the agony, there’s the reciprocal light. There’s life, love, laughter, lightness. You do deserve to live, and it does get better. I swear it does. Had I not failed and fallen again and again, I wouldn’t have gotten so good at getting up.
You can listen to my podcast recordings on how I felt during one of the darkest periods of my life. I hope it helps.