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Addiction mutation

Posted: May 30, 2008 5:18 p.m.
Updated: July 31, 2008 5:01 a.m.
You know how when you squeeze a water balloon on one end, it bulges out on the other end?

Well, giving up a bad habit is like that. You try to squeeze your habit out of existence, but another one pops up somewhere else.

Welcome to my new food addiction.

It seems that since I can no longer indulge in the hand-to-mouth ritual of smoking, I have substituted the hand-to-mouth ritual of eating.

Peter Jaeger (of the Tobacco Cessation Program) had said that it's somewhat of a myth that people eat more when they quit smoking, but I beg to differ. That's all I have wanted to do for the last couple of weeks. Now, I'm not saying that I have been indulging in gluttonous Dionysian feasts on a daily basis, but I have definitely upped the snack factor.

I am embarrassed to even think this, let alone commit it to paper, but I sometimes wonder which habit is worse. Smoking leads to cancer, emphysema and heart disease, but overeating can also lead to heart disease, as well as diabetes, hypertension and more.

From a purely superficial viewpoint, overeating really sucks too. Obviously it can lead to weight gain, which translates to cellulite, flab and double chins. Despite the fact that I have a sort of tomboyish vibe going on, I am a girly girl at heart, and sometimes a vain one. So I hate the spare tire developing around my belly, and the fact that I am getting chipmunk cheeks.

Peter told me at my last appointment that he thought I looked fine for my height, but he doesn't feel the discomfort from the too-tight jeans, and he doesn't have to deal with the mental anguish that comes from looking in the mirror and seeing a chubby person staring back instead of a svelte one. My extreme height (5'11") will only carry me so far, but after a certain point the excess weight will just make me resemble a linebacker. And swimsuit season is coming up - oy vey!

To make matters worse, my charming fingernail-biting habit, which had recently gone into remission, is now back with a vengeance. So I didn't really develop one new habit, I sort of developed two. Good thing I don't like alcohol. It would be really unfortunate if I gave up smoking only to become a raging alcoholic.

Seriously though, I wonder if this ever happens. I seem to recall reading an article recently about how some people who undergo gastric bypass surgery kick their food addiction, only to develop an alcohol dependence not long thereafter. Does this happen with ex-smokers too?

It makes me wonder about the nature of addiction. Once our brains become primed to be addicted to something, can we ever really turn that switch off completely? Are we really able to kick bad habits for good, or do they just mutate into something else? Are some people just more prone to addiction than others? (Note to self: Discuss this with Peter at next appointment.)

Despite the fact that I am rapidly becoming fat and fingernail-free (Gee, this will land me a boyfriend real fast!) I have decided that now is not the time to conquer my two new habits: As my mother always says, pick your battles. Don't try to change your entire life at once. Pace yourself. So I think I'll wait a few weeks, until I have licked the smoking thing, to work on kicking all those other vices.

This advice is especially important because I am still fighting the smoking urge on a daily basis. After telling Peter about my repeated cheating episodes over the last couple of weeks, he suggested that I try Nicotrol inhalers.

These are nifty little devices that look like plastic cigarettes, and allow you to get a small hit of pure nicotine when you are craving, rather than lighting up a poison-filled cancer stick.

Peter kindly typed up a letter for me to give to my doctor that explained that I am involved in a smoking-cessation program, requesting that he write me a prescription for the inhalers.

So, with letter in hand, I eagerly trotted off to the doctor, anxious to test out this device that would hopefully give me a non-lethal outlet for my cravings. The doctor called the prescription in to the pharmacy, and three hours later I went to pick it up.

However when I went to pay, my hopes were dashed. My insurance company would not pay for the inhalers, and I could not afford to pay the $212 cash price on my meager journalist's salary. So after some discussion with the staff about my options, I left the pharmacy empty-handed.

Apparently there were a couple of things I could do. I could ask the doctor to call the insurance company and see if they could make an exception, considering that I was enrolled in a formal smoking-cessation program. Or I could see if the doctor had some free sample inhalers in the office that he could give me.

I liked the second option best, because I thought that the number of cartridges that came in the prescription box was a little bit overkill (it was something like 159). However, I got more bad news the next day when I called the doctor and was told that not only did he not have any samples, but the likelihood of getting the insurance company to make an exception was low.

But a very kind nurse told me she would make her best attempt with the insurance company anyway, though it might take a week to get an answer from them.

Don't even get me started on how irrational it is that an insurance company would cover me if I ever got cancer from smoking, and would pay for my chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but it won't stump up$212 towards a product that could prevent me from getting sick in the first place, and therefore potentially save them thousands, if not millions of dollars!

Karen Elowitt is a staff writer at the Signal. Her opinions are her own, but may have been influenced by nicotine, carbon monoxide, or any of the other 4,000 chemicals commonly found in cigarettes that can addle the brain. Her views do not reflect those of the Signal, nor those of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, which waived the normal Smoking Cessation Program fee of $149.


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