Escaping Addiction: Why you feel stuck, Terssing, and Allen Carr's “Easyway” to Quit

Addiction

Here’s the idea.

Smoking is addictive, right? Those of us who start tend to get hooked. We crave cigarettes constantly, or find ourselves reaching for our vape every time we have a moment of quiet.

You probably know that feeling. A sense of urgency, or a feeling of need—something inside you pushing you to smoke. Until you do, you’re restless, distracted, impatient, and unhappy. Life settles into a cycle: smoking, waiting to smoke, smoking, waiting to smoke…

Escape

Sixty years of research has tried to figure out how to help people escape that loop. There are dozens of tried-and-true methods for quitting. You’ve probably heard of a few, or attempted some yourself, from going cold turkey to nicotine replacement therapy.

Every method has two things in common:

  1. They try to treat nicotine addiction.[1]
  2. They try to treat psychological and behavioral addiction.[2]

That’s where traditional treatment programs are coming from: nicotine replacement for the chemical side of things, therapy for the psychological side. They start by assuming that addiction is scary, and difficult, and should be treated using medical tools.

Those programs are based on solid science and work for a lot of people. The thing is, though, they also don’t work for a lot of people—plus they can be expensive and hard to access.

All of that helps explain why one other approach is so enduringly popular.

Allen Carr’s “Easyway”

Allen Carr published “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking” in 1985, and it’s accessibility, friendliness, and openness to everyone is part of why it got so popular.[3]

The other appealing factor, though, is that Carr’s approach to quitting is based on a total shift in perspective—one that we love here at terssing.com. Here’s a writer for the Guardian explaining  how the “Easyway” changed his life:

  • What I discovered was a deeply shocking truth: that I’d neither enjoyed nor depended upon cigarettes to the extent I’d thought. In fact, I hadn’t enjoyed or depended upon cigarettes at all—I’d merely convinced myself otherwise so as to assuage the cognitive dissonance between the rational part of my brain, which knows smoking is an ill-advised, expensive and dangerous hobby, and the short-sighted, nicotine-addicted pre-mammalian parts of my brain that didn’t care, and just wanted another cigarette.

In other words, Carr’s big idea is that nicotine addiction isn't that powerful. Not on its own. He calls it “the nicotine trap”: nicotine produces a mild chemical addiction, and that addiction, in turn, creates an intense psychological dependence.[4] He liked to say that addiction to smoking is “1% physical and 99% mental.”

Basically, he’s saying that the smoke in our cigarettes doesn’t really do anything for us.

So why do we smoke? Well, once we’re in the habit, it’s just what we do. We smoke when we’re bored. We smoke when we’re stressed. We smoke when we’re angry. We smoke to have something in our hands, to have something to focus on. We smoke because we’re used to it, and because we’ve trained ourselves to think about smoking as something we depend on to feel okay.

I'm guessing that all sounds pretty familiar.

Does the “Easyway” work?

Those insights about smoking and addiction are the basis for the “Easyway.” We absolutely agree: changing your perspective and your habits is right at the heart of how we get away from the downsides of smoking.

Carr’s basic solution—the “Easyway” itself—is to slowly and thoroughly get rid of the belief that smoking gives us anything we really want.

The titles in this article are deliberate: Carr tells smokers that they’re not giving something up, they’re “escaping” something they never really wanted. Once you get that mindset in place, you have a way to move forward—you can replace your cigarettes with other habits and live your life the way you want to, without that constant, urgent anticipation of the next chance to smoke.

And that approach works really well.[5] There have been decades of debate about the Easyway, which boil down to Carr being an argumentative person and making a few over-ambitious claims about his program. It isn’t 90% effective, not long-term. But that’s not because the program doesn’t work, it’s because nothing is 90% effective. Quitting is hard, people relapse, and for most of us it takes a few tries.

In fact, two huge government studies in the UK[6] and Ireland[7] found that the Easyway worked better than their to-tier, gold-standard medical programs that combine nicotine replacement with one-on-one counseling. Six months after quitting, about 15% of people in traditional programs are still smoke free. Those numbers are about 20% for the “Easyway.”

So this works. Changing your perspective is a great way to start feeling better. It also helps you recognize that it isn’t really the nicotine you're craving—it’s the psychological feeling of relief, of distraction, of familiarity and satisfaction. It’s “99% mental,” remember?

Making the Easy Way Easier

That’s where terssing comes in. We completely support Carr’s approach to quitting, and we know that it’s easier to change habits when you’re building them into something new.

Instead of needing to abandon every part of smoking, terssing lets you abandon the smoke itself.

At the same time, it gives you a healthy, no-downsides feeling of relaxation and satisfaction.

It’s another way to change your perspective, rebuild your habits, and be free from the downsides of smoking.

Call it…the Even-Easier Way.

References

Carr, A. (1999). Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking, 3rd Ed. Gardner’s Books.

Day M. (2006). Allen Carr. BMJ : British Medical Journal, 333(7581), 1273. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39059.581123.FA

Dijkstra, A., Zuidema, R., Vos, D., & van Kalken, M. (2014). The effectiveness of the Allen Carr smoking cessation training in companies tested in a quasi-experimental design. BMC Public Health, 14(1), 1-9.

Frings, D., Albery, I. P., Moss, A. C., Brunger, H., Burghelea, M., White, S., & Wood, K. V. (2020). Comparison of Allen Carr's Easyway programme with a specialist behavioural and pharmacological smoking cessation support service: a randomized controlled trial. Addiction, 115(5), 977-985.

Keogan, S., Li, S., & Clancy, L. (2019). Allen Carr’s Easyway to Stop Smoking-A randomised clinical trial. Tobacco Control, 28(4), 414-419.

Kerr, S., Woods, C., Knussen, C., Watson, H., & Hunter, R. (2013). Breaking the habit: a qualitative exploration of barriers and facilitators to smoking cessation in people with enduring mental health problemsBMC Public Health, 13(1), 1-12.

McLaughlin, I., Dani, J. A., & De Biasi, M. (2015). Nicotine withdrawal. The Neuropharmacology of Nicotine Dependence, 99-123.

 

[1] McLaughlin, Dani, and De Biasi (2015).

[2] Kerr et al. (2013).

[3] Day (2006).

[4] Carr (1999).

[5] Dijkstra et al. (2014).

[6] Keogan et al. (2019).

[7] Frings et al. (2020).

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