Is ‘Hitting Bottom’ Just a Myth?

Via NY Daily News

BILL: “When I had no other option twelve years ago,” writes Jason, “I went to my first AA meeting. Been sober ever since. So I know how powerful hitting bottom can be. While my wife is not a drunk, she can’t quit cigarettes. She joined a Nicotine Anonymous group a year ago, but it does not help. Do I have to wait till she hits some tobacco bottom – lung cancer? – before she quits?”

DR. DAVE: Wasn’t one of your old jokes that you never smoked — so you were easy to spot: the one drunk in the bar with a martini in both hands?

BILL: That’s why I turned for help to Dr. Peter Ferentzy, PhD – author of “Dealing With Addiction – why the 20th century was wrong.”

“The governing approach to addiction is a joke,” he told me. “Hitting bottom rarely helps. Consider this: if someone is happy at work and happily married but doesn’t quit, ruining the marriage and work situation will LESSEN the odds of quitting. If anything, the anxiety will increase the smoking. The more Jason’s wife has to live for, the greater the odds of her kicking (tobacco, alcohol, crack, whatever). Few kick when their lives are in turmoil. The best approach is love and nonjudgmental support. The worst approach is ‘tough love.’”

DR. DAVE: “The real problem in stopping smoking,” says the noted tobacco-dependence researcher, John Hughes, M. D., “is not relapse … it is getting through the first week. Forty percent of smokers who try do not even abstain for two days and 60 percent do not make it for a week.” That’s why there are 7 day Stop Smoking residential treatment programs — the agreed on time most critical for cessation.

BILL: Dave, why does it sound as if kicking smokes is more difficult than going sober?

DR. DAVE: This is an addiction I can talk about pretty intimately Bill—both bottom and addiction. When I quit 20 years ago, I was pushing 3 packs a day. While I don’t buy all of Dr. Ferentzy’s philosophy on hitting bottom actually feeding the addiction, I agree that controlled crises are a much better solution.

BILL: Three packs a day. You?

DR. DAVE: The last 2 years of my PhD dissertation were brutal. There I was working on research about the damage drugs was causing young adults — with an ashtray next to my old IBM Selectric Typewriter overflowing with Marlboro Menthols….

BILL: What a visual! The addicted Doc in a cloud of writer’s “fog”…

DR. DAVE: Since 1992, the only thing littering my draft journal articles are crumbs from Tim’s Cascade Potato chips…

BILL: A compulsion to talk about another day. So what was your bottom?

DR. DAVE: My oldest daughter Katie came to me crying. I thought “Ah, a hard day at school—coming to get consoled by her dad.” No — she was really upset because I was killing myself by smoking! Once she punched through my denial, all of a sudden I was looking at a world filled with daily struggles to get from one cigarette to the next!

BILL: How did you finally get through those crucial first seven days and stay stopped?

DR. DAVE: My daughter’s tears made me face that I needed something to barricade me from the world while turning me into a non-smoker 24/7.

BILL: And you found – ?

DR. DAVE: – that the Seventh Day Adventists had been doing stop smoking cessation work as a world community service for 20+ years. And lo and behold, they had a seven-day residential treatment program at a lodge overlooking the Columbia River near where I lived.

BILL: So, if you can get through 7 days of Adventist proselytizing and withdrawal, you’d be home free?

DR. DAVE: No proselytizing Bill — I couldn’t tell you any principles of the Seventh Day Adventists; except they apparently aren’t real fond of meat—nor caffeine.

BILL: And for our readers who want to follow that path?

DR. DAVE: Well, they could call a local Adventist Health program. If they don’t have a residential program, they should have a daily program. Readers say they create the same experience I did by staying at a hotel next to the hospital for seven days. Here’s the website for my “treatment center” — Jason and his wife could always start there: Northwest Adventist Hospital.