A Common Vocabulary


Ask 5 people to define ‘addiction’ and you’ll likely receive 5 definitions that, while close, will be just different enough to create confusion. We need a common understanding for a few words. They are:

1 - Situations
2 - Body cues
3 - Nicotine Addiction
4 - Smoking Habit
5 - Rational Response
6 - Urge/Crave
7 - Autopilot

These are the definitions I use:

1 - Situations - external events or internal states that you experience (life).

This includes (a small list):
  - drinking a cup of coffee, driving
  - on the phone, at the computer, taking the garbage to the curb
  - getting up in the morning, taking breaks, meeting with others
  - being tired, hungry, angry, lonely, bored, relaxed, hot, or cold
  - nicotine withdrawal (too long since your last cigarette)

2 - Body Cues – identifiable parts or areas of your body.

The most common identifiable body cues are:
  - changes in breathing or the condition of your breathing e.g. rapid,     shallow, slow, deep
  - muscle tension e.g. neck,shoulders, jaw, hands, back, stomach,     chest
These next two are included as body cues because they generally have a physiological basis e.g. fatigue, hunger, dehydration:
  - foggy thinking and/or difficulty concentrating
  - mood shifts

3 - Nicotine Addiction - your body’s dependence on nicotine to relieve     reoccurring nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

As your nicotine level drops, the 4 initial symptoms of withdrawal are:
  - increased muscle tension
  - shallow breathing
  - foggy thinking
  - mood shifts.

Those symptoms become increasingly uncomfortable until you feel compelled to act. Smoking raises your nicotine level relieving withdrawal discomfort within seconds. That is the basis of the need/feed nature of ‘nicotine addiction’, a fluctuating level of nicotine and its associated characteristics.

4 - Smoking Habit - your association of a smoking response to body cues     REGARDLESS of the source of those cues e.g. fatigue, boredom, hunger,     anger, sitting in traffic, general anxiety, or too long since your last cigarette.

Most quitters continue to feel urges to smoke long after they’ve dealt with the chemical addiction. Those ongoing urges to smoke occur because your autopilot has been trained to associate certain body cues, regardless of their source, with a specific effective response … a cigarette. That is the smoking habit.

5 - Rational Response - an ‘effective’ action based on your rational evaluation     of current conditions rather than on your established beliefs or automatic     assumptions.

A rational response to tension in your neck and shoulders would be to stretch those specific muscles. A rational response to shallow breathing would be to take several proper deep breaths. A rational response to hunger would be to eat. Thirst - drink! Tired - Rest! This may sound oversimplified, but rational responses often are just that simple.

6 - Urge or Crave - your desire for something or your compulsion to initiate a     particular action.

Your urges and/or cravings (I use the terms interchangeably) are the end of a three step process that begins with (1) a body cue, followed by (2) an associated response, ending in (3) an urge/crave/desire to initiate that particular response. Because you are typically unaware of this process until you feel an urge or craving, they often feel as if they come ‘out of the blue.’

7 - Auto Pilot – the part of your brain that directs automatic and primal     responses.

Your conscious brain delegates most repetitive behaviours to your auto-pilot. Throughout your life, you train that part of you by repeating and reinforcing certain 'cue/associated response' patterns.

To Recap:

Situations are the external events you encounter and/or the internal states of
    being that you experience.

Body Cues are your specific physical sensations. Mental acuity and shifts in
    emotion are included as body cues.

Nicotine Addiction is your physiological dependence on nicotine to relieve
    your reoccurring withdrawal symptoms.

Smoking Habit is your behaviour involving cigarettes and the way in which
    they’ve become your default response to the body cues common to daily

Rational Responses are effective actions based on an evaluation of current

Urges or Cravings result when a response is associated with a particular

Auto Pilot is the part of your mind that’s in charge of your habitual and
     instinctive behaviours.