Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Quitting smoking and personality changes

I'm starting to think that the smoking was a kind of personality suppressant, and now that I've been off cigs for a month my more aggressive self is coming to the forefront. Not that I'm in anyone's face in person (okay, so when the toilet was plugged for four days I got kind of bitchy to my husband, which is an understatement) but online I've just been way more outspoken than ever before. I attacked a person on Facebook for slut-shaming this weekend. I attacked another person for legislating e-cigs at the University of South Dakota. I've been a bit lippy with my brother's girlfriend (but she was pretending to be him on Facebook and sending me private messages that were psycho). I even spoke up to my daughter's art teacher for being, basically, a rude b*tch by contacting me about my adult daughter's artwork. It's like I'm this other person who finally has the balls to say what I'm thinking, and it's not very nice. 

I've spent my whole life working on being nice. It's what I was taught was desirable behavior, both by my mother and by most of society. We're girls. We're supposed to be nice, act nice, play nice, look nice, worship nicely, dress nicely, be nice moms and nice girlfriends, nice daughters, and nice wives. I accomplished niceness with cigarettes, apparently, and now my crutch is gone so is the veneer of niceness. 

Oh well, it was wearing on me anyway. I haven't always been the most accomplished fake-nice person there ever was (that title probably belongs to my cousin--oh! and there I go again with the bitchiness!). But what a surprise for me that possibly smoking was masking a hidden, highly aggressive and slightly mean personality. It's not nice to find this out when you're halfway through with your life.

So I did some basic research about personality changes with quitting smoking and hit two extremes. The first is negative:

Now, I'm not a psychologist. And she's not here. But I do know something about psych, from both an educational perspective and a personal one. And I bet on the inside she knows how she's being, but doesn't know what to do.
Your guess about an underlying problem is most likely fairly close to the truth. Just from an informational perspective, there's two things I'd consider.
The first is that the mentally ill make up 15% of the population, but 50% of cigarette sales. This isn't a coincidence. Smoking is the most effective self-medication against a myriad of mental illness that there is. It calms a variety of symptoms, while leaving ones cognitive functions intact.
MAOI's are in cigarettes. We also prescribe them to people for depression. The connection here is obvious - not only is someone with depression likely to be self-medicating with cigarettes because they have a known anti-depressant chemical, but someone coming off them is likely to experience depression from withdrawal. The big problem with depression is that once you're in that hole, getting out is pretty tough. So which came first is almost impossible to say. That'd be something she'd want to work out with a pro.
Nicotine also has a huge variety of psychological effects, many of them positive.
Another thing to consider, is when she started smoking. The younger it was, the longer it will take for her brain to figure out that tobacco is not a natural part of its chemical make-up. That's the problem with developing any addiction at a young age, when your brain is right in the middle of maturing - it can mistake the substance for a natural part of its environment.
The younger you started smoking, the longer smoking cessation-related depression is likely to last.
Locked somewhere inside whatever mess is going on inside her mind, is the your best friend. You know her very well. Take some time to think about what gets through to her, in moments of extreme stress and disorientation. Because it sounds like that's how she feels every day now. It can be hard to drag yourself along through that.
Whatever that thing that gets through to her is, use it to let her know you're worried, and encourage her to find some help of some kind. Anything is better than nothing. Maybe the first something she needs is to have a good conversation with you.
Enduring personality changes can happen for a lot of reasons. Removal of something medicating an underlying problem, trauma, puberty, life changes, nothing at all. It's hard to understand why it's happening, and it's hard to know what to do when you go through it. Unfortunately the most common thing that people do, is nothing.
They ignore it, or assume it will go away, or try to hide it, and of course that makes it infinitely worse 9 times out of 10. But what do you do when your mind is suddenly revolting? No one's ever written any sort of handbook for that.
What did I do? Well... due to lack of any other resources, I started smoking, and dragged my sorry butt through it for a year. Not what I'd recommend, though.
I think the best thing you can do right now is try to be as authentically human and exposed as you can be. She's in there somewhere. Find her, and tell her you're worried. source: http://www.e-cigarette-forum.com/forum/general-e-smoking-discussion/148263-quitting-smoking-complete-personality-change.html

The other is a study at University of Missouri:

MU Study Finds Quitting Smoking Enhances Personality ChangeSept. 12, 2011
Story Contact(s):
MU News Bureau, munewsbureau@missouri.edu, 573-882-6211
COLUMBIA, Mo. –University of Missouri researchers have found evidence that shows those who quit smoking show improvements in their overall personalities. 
Andrew Littlefield, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychological Sciences, found evidence that shows those who quit smoking show improvements in their overall personalities.
“The data indicate that for some young adults smoking is impulsive,” said Andrew Littlefield, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychological Sciences in theCollege of Arts and Science. “That means that 18-year-olds are acting without a lot of forethought and favor immediate rewards over long-term negative consequences. They might say, ‘I know smoking is bad for me, but I’m going to do it anyway.’ However, we find individuals who show the most decreases in impulsivity also are more likely quit smoking. If we can target anti-smoking efforts at that impulsivity, it may help the young people stop smoking.”
In the study, MU researchers compared people, aged 18-35, who smoked with those who had quit smoking. They found that individuals who smoked were higher in two distinct personality traits during young adulthood:
  • impulsivity – acting without thinking about the consequences
  • neuroticism – being emotionally negative and anxious, most of the time
Littlefield found that those with higher levels of impulsivity and neuroticism were more likely to engage in detrimental behaviors, such as smoking. However, Littlefield also found that those who quit smoking had the biggest declines in impulsivity and neuroticism from ages 18 to 25.
“Smokers at age 18 had higher impulsivity rates than non-smokers at age 18, and those who quit tended to display the steepest declines in impulsivity between ages 18 and 25,” Littlefield said. “However, as a person ages and continues to smoke, smoking becomes part of a regular behavior pattern and less impulsive.  The motives for smoking later in life – habit, craving, loss of control and tolerance – are key elements of smoking dependence and appear to be more independent of personality traits.”
Despite the evidence from this study, substance use is still a complex relationship of genetic and environmental factors, Littlefield said.
The study, “Smoking Desistance and Personality Change in Emerging and Young Adulthood,” has been accepted by the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research. The study was co-authored by Kenneth J. Sher, a professor in the MU Department of Psychological Sciences.
Littlefield says the tobacco use study will contribute to ongoing research on the relationship between personality and substance abuse. He recently received a $30,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study genetic influences on personality and alcohol drinking motives.

How many people, if they knew about personality changes and the possibility that they were self-medicating depression with cigarettes, would stop smoking? Why isn't there more research about this? Why am I just finding this out?

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