Smoking Reinforcement Cycle

Smoking Reinforcement

I find it helps to understand smoking reinforcement. I had a young man today whose life is going nowhere. He smokes ten a day and does not know how to stop smoking. Part of him likes smoking but part of him wants to give up and can't.

He said he is able to stop but keeps starting again. The last time he gave up was for three months, but started again after a row with his dad. He could not tell me why he started again. I then asked him what had been going on in his life when he first started smoking. He said that he was 16 and got a job as a trainee chef and everyone smoked at work and he wanted to fit in.

I asked about his home life. He described nine people living in three bedrooms, including his disabled father and his pregnant girl friend. It was immediately obvious why he liked smoking: it reminded him of a time when he was happy and calm. Smoking let him get away from an environment that was chaotic.

He agreed that smoking let him get away from things and to calm down. I asked 'calm down from what?'. He said that he usually smoked after an argument, either with his father or his girlfriend, who now had two children.

Smoking Habit Reinforcing

The smoking reinforcement pattern seemed to be:

argument leads to anger leads to smoking leads to calming down which reinforces the smoking.

This is a classic habit maintenance pattern. He smokes because it lets him calm down. So his smoking is reinforced every time he has an argument, and every time he feels bad about something.

The standard stop smoking treatment consists of treating one or more of the parts of the cycle. You can attack the reward, and make the smokes taste horrible. You can attack the behavior and suggest that smoking will no longer work. You can attack the feeling and teach ways of dealing with the feelings.Or you can attack the reaction and suggest ways of managing the reaction.

Ending the Smoking Reinforcement Cycle

In this case I felt that fixing the smoking would only last until the next argument unless I fixed the response to the argument first. So I asked him to imagine that he was having an argument with his father, and to allow the feelings of anger to come out. He did that. When I was sure that he was feeling the anger I started doing Metaphor Replacement Therapy.

We worked on objectifying the feeling. He said that the feeling was red, and round like a disk, about the size of an old record. It was thin and perfectly round. I got him to imagine getting rid of the red disk. He came up with the idea of melting it. He used a kitchen blow torch and it melted and vanished.

I tested his feelings against another imagined argument. He reported that it just felt sad; the anger was gone.

I then used my standard hypnosis routine help him stop smoking from today. As part of that I wove in suggestions about taking control of his life, getting away from the environment and creating a better future for him and his kids. And to not allow himself to be held back by other people's needs and feelings.

I look forward to hearing how it all worked out.

What do you think?

How do you deal with cyclic behavior patterns? What ones have you seen?

David Mason

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