Smoking and ADD/ADHD

Core Benefits

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Another post in the Walking A Mile in Another’s Shoes Series

Bear with me, ok?  I’m not arguing FOR smoking.

I’m not PLANNING to argue FOR smoking.
Only an idiot would argue for smoking!

But it is NOT also true that only an idiot would smoke.


Sit on your hands if you must, but do your dead-level best to “hear me out” before you make it your business to burn up the keyboard telling me what I already know, ok?

I PROMISE YOU I have already heard everything
you are going to find it difficult not to flame at me.

There is not a literate human being in the United States that hasn’t been made aware of every single argument you might attempt to burn into the retinas of every smoky throated human within any circle of influence you are able to tie down, shout down, argue down or otherwise pontificate toward.

NOW – can you listen for once?  I’m not going to force you to inhale.  I’m not even trying to change your mind. I would like to OPEN it a crack, however.

If you truly want to get rid of the deleterious effects of all that nasty second-hand smoke, wouldn’t it make some sense to understand why your arguments continue to fall on deaf ears?

Unless you truly believe that saying the same thing for the two million and twenty-second time is going to suddenly make a difference —

or unless you don’t really care whether people stop smoking
or not as long as you get to rant and rave about it

wouldn’t it make some sense to listen for a moment to WHY some of the people are still smoking?

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Logically Inconsistent

It would be facile and disingenuous to argue that logic faults were the only reason your arguments don’t seem to make much of a difference to those cold, inconsiderate, indifferent and rude barely-human beings who insist on puffing on your planet.

It is one reason why those human smoke-stacks
find you easy to dismiss, however.

Some of you quote statistics with abandon, seemingly concerned by the risks to the smoker as you point out how inconsiderate it is to loved-ones they would leave behind for them to deliberately court death in a manner over which they could – and so should – exert some control.

You explain these risks over your cell phone while you drive home from wherever you’ve been.

Do you realize that what you are doing – using a cell phone while you are driving – is statistically more likely to result in death or disaster to self and others than first or second-hand smoke?

But you have a good reason to drive and dial, right?  So that makes it OK.
It also makes it logically inconsistent, thus your “don’t smoke” arguments easily dismissed.

Some of you drink, then drive.  Ditto.

Explanations that might help you get what you want

Since arguing from the general to the specific AND the specific to the general is rampant in the “Why Do Smokers Continue to Smoke” rants that populate the internet, let’s get into a few new specifics.

@Lady Banana – if you REALLY want him to quit, stop making him wrong.

Unless, of course, what you want more is an excuse to punish him for ever having started to begin with — or for not listening to you about something else that you can’t attack directly.

ANY make-wrong will make it all the more difficult for him to quit, but at least there would be some kind of logic to the vociferous censure.

  • THAT’s the big reason you ask about that “so many fail to quit.”
  • Brain science.



Do ANY of you “just say NO” don’t-smoke advocates honestly believe there is anything you can say that will be NEW info to a smoker?

Its not about information and its not about logic.

For quit smoking success, smokers need sympathy, understanding and SUPPORT for the behaviors you and the smoker would BOTH like to see INCREASED.

“See if you can give up just one more of your cigarettes every day this week —
keep trying, I KNOW you can do it!”

They do NOT need judgment and censure for the behaviors you want stopped,
coupled with another fear-mongering lecture.

I promise, they’re already afraid – mostly of failure in their own eyes.

NOT so New Paradigms of Motivation


Motivational science has moved beyond
“motivating away from” to “motivating toward
— letting go of “the stick” to embrace “the carrot” — because:

  • that’s the way the brain rewires
  • that’s how resolve is strengthened, and
  • THAT’s how bad habits are broken.

People smoke to cope with negative emotions.  Life gives them enough of those moments – counselors and doctors and loved ones don’t do ANYBODY any favors by upping the emotional ante.

The beatings will stop when motivation increases!!

Pretty silly said that way, huh?

Beating a horse to get him to run might work initially, but it won’t work forever.

  • And it makes for a mean horse!
  • Beaten horses rush for relief — in this case, a cigarette.
  • Logic will be discounted and your smokers will turn a deaf ear to ALL of your statistics
    (after all, not EVERYONE who smokes dies).

That approach will never-never-never work for long-term results as reliably as baby-stepped,
really-no-kidding SUPPORT.

Save all your “wonderful reasons” to keep kids and young adults from ever starting in the first place (taking care with language and tone that you don’t activate THEIR oppositional behavior — especially likely with teens!)

Nix the judgment if you’re more concerned about a smoker’s physical health (and your own!) than being right.

Costs and Benefits

Every source of energy has costs and benefits

If the benefit is central (or perceived to be central) to quality of life, we can identify that particular practice as a core benefit.

A perfect example is what some of the Jewish concentration camp survivors were willing to do to stay alive.  No one was more aware of the costs than they.

The core benefit to doing what they felt they had to, however, was life itself.

It takes saint-like courage to be willing to die rather than suffer moral pangs and/or be forced to witness the suffering of others.  For most mere mortals, benefit will frequently outweigh cost.

We are “hard wired” for survival.

Our brains don’t distinguish well between a physical threat and a psychological threat.  Danger is danger.  Any attempt at “behavior modification” (nagging or coaching) which ignores the realities of the victim/sufferer’s life will be ineffectual — not to mention annoying, if not down-right cruel.

For all of us, along with life itself, sanity is a core benefit that is primary. 

Being able to organize our thoughts is a prerequisite to feeling like we are sane;
attention and focus is a prerequisite to cognitive organization.

For ADDers who find themselves unable to focus their minds without what we’ll refer to as an “adrenalin boost,” the benefit of suddenly being able to think clearly will always seem to outweigh any cost

You are fighting an impossible battle to get them to give up the benefit unless you can eliminate or significantly reduce the danger underneath the need for the benefit: lack of cognitive focus.

Self Medication

Distinction: Addiction vs. bad habit vs. self-medication

An ADDer can sometimes demonstrate behaviors that confuse novice ADD coaches into thinking that what they’re hearing belongs in the realm of addiction when, in fact, something else is going on.

The question that illuminates the difference is this one: 
is the “substance abuse” one that takes the person away from life or toward it?

Addictions usually have an escapist quality to them — life is more exciting when they’re jazzed, or less frenetic or unhappy when they’re chemically calmed.  In other words, there is something wrong with LIFE that the substance helps them deal with.  Or so the [lack of] thinking goes.

Attempts at self medication are different at their base, and we see a lot of it in the ADD world.

Stimulation for FOCUS

Without going into a long explanation of receptor cites and neuro-chemical efficacy,
stimulants focus the brain.

ADDers frequently stumble upon stimulants (caffeine & nicotine in particular, but sometime others) because the neurochemical “boost” makes them feel calmer and more able to focus with intentionality, sustain focus, and shift focus at will, NOT because they are experiencing a “kick” that makes life more exciting.
(We’ll call this stimulation an “adrenalin boost” for the rest of this article, even though that’s not exactly what’s going on)

NOBODY is suggesting you go along with any substance abuse, regardless of the reason for it.

The purpose of the distinction is that if you are dealing with the “bad habit” of self-medicating, solving the primary problem (i.e., giving the loved one or client another way to achieve the primary benefit that the “habit” was developed to manage) is the quickest way to open the space for the person to cut down on the caffeine, kick the cigarette habit, etc. — even if it has slipped over the addiction line.

Make sense? Good! But there’s more, so stay with me here.

Medication Delivery

EVEN when an ADDer finds his or her way to effective medication, they may still find it difficult to give up the cigarettes (or the caffeine).  HOW COME?  Delivery on demand.

It’s easier to explain the dynamic in terms of the difference between those of us who rely on nature’s own insulin pump and diabetics who must take shots.

InsulinFor those of us lucky enough to have a healthy insulin metabolism, our bodies deliver insulin on demand.  We eat something that needs to be metabolized and our body helps us out.  We don’t eat, no additional insulin is required, so none is pumped.

For diabetics, the balance must be
self-monitored and self-adjusted.

Unless they eat exactly the same balance of calories, from exactly the same food groups (at exactly the same time of day, relative to their schedule), the shot they give themselves in the morning, for example, is a good guesstimate of what they need, but really no more than that.

  • My sister, for example, “could tell” when she needed a shot to counterbalance too much glucose – or a glass of orange juice or a quick hit of sugar to counterbalance too little – by how she felt.
  • The only time she ran into trouble was when she was out and about.  There were times when we were out together when we had to stop what we were doing to run to a store for orange juice (or M&Ms), or get her home to test her blood sugar and take a shot as soon as we could get her there.

So it is with Stims

Life is not even and predictable – so medication delivery, EVEN when appropriately titrated, can only be a good guesstimate of what we need to drive our brains.

If our politicians weren’t so interested in protecting addicts from themselves that they made the drug laws in a manner that staying effectively medicated was almost impossibly complex for those of us taking controlled substances, we wouldn’t need to boost functioning with additional substances (like nicotine and caffeine).

  • For example, our doctors might prescribe a variety of dosages in fast acting tablets that we could use in much the same manner that my sister managed her diabetes.
  • When our functional needs were lower, we’d take less.
  • When life bumped up, we could bump up our medication to help us manage.

AS IT IS, we medicate for optimal functioning across-the-board on an average day.
How many of YOUR days are average?  Right!

So, many of us “boost” with a stimulating substance like caffeine or nicotine.  Some, like me, are usually as aware of our own functional needs as my sister was aware of her metabolic needs.  Others aren’t really conscious of what they’re doing, they just know that it helps.

NOT just for ADD

The same dynamic applies to most human beings, by the way.  Most of us drink coffee, tea, colas, or energy drinks, and few of us are aware that what we are “boosting” is cognitive ability.  But we sure know when we need a cup of coffee — or a cigarette!

So, when you’re asking somebody to get along without the “crutch” that helps them function – even if they aren’t aware of what it’s helping – you are dealing in the territory of Core Benefit.  For many smokers, giving up cigarettes is possible ONLY once life settles down to a manageable roar.

Those of you whose bodies, metaphorically, “pump” what you need to drive your own brains can’t understand what it’s like for the rest of us, any more than I could really understand what my sister had to deal with as a diabetic.

But I believed her when she said she needed to get some M&Ms or get home for a shot.

And because I believed her, I was able to help her come up with some “think it through” strategies that gave us a lot more outings that were not interrupted.

MY POINT is that a little “listening from belief” support from you might help the smoker in your life kick the habit.  In any case, it might lower your annoyance with them, and theirs with your “nagging” so that they might be willing to keep their habit out of your awareness.

It’s worth a shot!

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From the Walking A Mile in Another’s Shoes Series of Articles

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

13 Responses to Smoking and ADD/ADHD

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  4. adeleulnais says:

    A fantastic way to approach a smoker about quitting, well done and thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks – and you’re welcome. It has always been my coaching approach to assume that there is a REASON for almost everything I see.

      Only once I understand the reason am I able to offer help beyond “just say no” or “increase your motivation” or “adjust your belief system” – IDIOT comments I see all over the ‘net (and I know you do too).

      I know the refusal to “listen from belief” makes BOTH of us crazy – I read your blog.

      Liked by 1 person

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  9. Ann Miller says:

    Wow! Having quit smoking 23 years ago I didn’t correlate any current discussion of amygdala hijack to that horrible feeling of being made to feel wrong when someone got on my case about smoking back then. It did send me into that black of hole of feeling less than, wrong, and like a horrible person, which, of course, is exactly the worst place to start from when trying to make a change. BTW, it’s amazing how little caffeine I’m craving since I started stimulant medication recently. I didn’t realize how much I was self-medicating until I just almost completely stopped!


    • GREAT self-observations. Amazing how learning a few facts about what’s going on with us leads to changing something that changes everything eventually, huh?

      23 years? Pre-dx then. Congratulations. How did you ever quit?



      • Ann Miller says:

        Love and the desire for approval got me to quit initially. I guess the bloom of new love boosts the brain chemicals, right? After that newness wore off, I started back up but then more love by way of getting pregnant caused me to quit permanently. The good thing was that my now-husband didn’t make me feel wrong in the beginning–now after I started back, even what he would have considered subtle berating was enough to send me into that black hole of guilt and less-than-ness. After my son was born, I even tried a cigarette but luckily it was thoroughly “blech!”


        • “Love and the desire for approval” – how intellectually and emotionally honest of you!

          And yes, the hormones of love are a high like no other. A lot of woman have reported stopping during pregnancy. Some actually quit, others become “sneaky smokers” to avoid exposing their children, and others give up and give in. It would be an interesting study to see how many of the “restarts” were ADDers, huh?

          You are very lucky your single cigarette “was thoroughly ‘blech!’”. I have “stopped” (won’t say quit) several times – cold turkey, with very little trouble. I stayed “stopped” for years EACH time, then a single cigarette in a moment of high stress got me going again – and I was unable to make myself stop again until life calmed down.

          When I can finally say “quit” I will have made friends with the reality that *I* cannot have so much as a single PUFF again!

          You know, Ann, a blog post about what it was you did to QUIT – including some of your temptations and feelings in the process – would probably be a big help to your “target market” to help them avoid starting, or attempt to quit while they are still young. If you decide to do it, let me know and I’ll link it here.

          Thanks for ringing in.

          READERS: Ann is a grad of [link ==>]ADD in the Spirit Coach Training, specializing in ADD in teens and young adults. Click on her name to check out her website if you’re looking for a coach — she’s especially good with student issues.


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