March 5, 2011

What hurts the most... by Ge

I tried smoking once in my life and hated it so much I never tried again. I actually didn’t know how to smoke so I figure I was probably doing it wrong, but I never bothered trying to smoke the right way anymore after that. Partly for fear that I might eventually like it, partly because I would never have the guts to walk into a store and buy myself a pack of cigarettes (HAHA), partly because of the awareness of how smoking can affect my body, but mostly because I just couldn’t stand the stink of it.

I grew up thinking it was a wasteful and destructive activity and I wondered why people still even do it at all. Around 6 years ago, I was over at my friend’s house watching TV in her room when I suddenly heard the click of a lighter. I looked back and saw that she was smoking by the window. I was scandalized, but I didn’t want to seem shrewish so I let her finish her cigarette before I asked her why she did it. She told me it helped her deal with the pain of her parents’ separation. I didn’t get it. Did smoking help relieve pain? Well I guess it made sense. I mean, no wonder so many people smoke.

Fast forward 6 years later. I know now that cigarettes aren’t meant to be pain relievers, but over the years I’ve observed that people who are sad or heartbroken or in physical pain do tend to want to smoke more. I guess it helps in some way.

This week in class we learned about the perception of pain. It caught my attention because pain, in all its wretchedness, is fundamental in human life - whether we like it or not. It’s just something we have to deal with everyday. And as we learned in class, pain is actually an important part of keeping our health and safety in check.

Relating this to smoking, I came across an article that explored the effects of pain induction on smoking urge and behavior. Some studies show that smoking appears to decrease the intensity of pain, but other studies reveal that smoking can actually aggravate it. Although the covariance there is unclear, what this particular study focuses on is the motivation to smoke.

The researchers used a cold pressor to induce pain on the participants then asked them to report their urge to smoke as well as observed their actual smoking behavior. As it turns out, the situational pain increased participants’ urge to smoke and shortened the latency before their actual smoking behavior. This is paralleled by my friend who admitted that she was motivated to smoke because of the pain she was experiencing from her parents’ split.

As I’ve observed, people really do use smoking to cope with pain. But I think it’d be useful for all the pain smokers out there to know this: the study suggests a reciprocal relationship between smoking and pain.

As a means of coping with pain, people are motivated to smoke. This leads to more smoking, which could aggravate the pain, which causes the urge to smoke some more, and so on and so forth. The cycle goes on and on, leading to heightened dependence on tobacco and probably even more pain.

Moral of the story?
Find better ways to cope. Sublimation, perhaps? Join an art class, play a sport, watch a movie, go out with friends, etc. You’ll find that channeling your pain towards more constructive and healthy activities can make for better pain management as well as a more productive use of time. :)

Ditre, J. W., & Brandon, T. H. (2008). Pain as a motivatior of smoking: effects of pain induction on smoking urge and behavior. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 117(2), 467-472.  

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