For most of my adult life I have relied on a crutch to see me through my days. I finally got rid of that crutch when I threw out my can of Copenhagen. As much as I thought I was tough, healthy and hardcore, I never considered, or accepted the fact that I was also a substance abuser. Looking back at all the stops and starts to this addiction, I don't know how I allowed myself to put such restraints on my progress.
Like many other people my age, I made the decision many years ago to use tobacco. The funny thing is, I never smoked a cigarette a day in my life, although I have and still do smoke a cigar on rare occasions. I chose smokeless tobacco because it was thought to be less harmful than cigarettes. Additionally, former athletes advertised smokeless tobacco as being something that was relaxing and manly. And America's pastime is filled with players who use the product.
I have been using smokeless tobacco on and off for years. I thought I "quit" numerous times but I now realize that wasn't really the case. You can say that I merely stopped using for periods of time. The difference now is that I finally quit, meaning that I am done and will not start again. I'm well over the hump. The mental resolve is here now, and I cannot conceive a need to ever rejoin the substance abusers based on my reason to quit.
People cite many reasons for quitting and I also believe you need a strong reason to quit. My primary reason is perceived damage to my thyroid and throat. My thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels are slowly rising and my voice has been raspy for too long. After investigating the possible reasons and solutions, I concluded that I had been dipping too much and for too long. I realize that some damage was probably done and I hope and work at recovery at this point. This may be an inaccurate perception, but it is my primary reason.
So, why do I write this article for a bodybuilding site? Pretty simple, chewing tobacco is part of many athletes and peak performers lives. Athletes - baseball is kind of obvious, but I have known many wrestlers, powerlifters and bodybuilders who used snuff, intentionally or unintentionally, as part of their weight control programs. I've also read that many football players and golfers are now users of smokeless tobacco.
Peak performers - ask anyone who served in the military how many folks they saw using tobacco products to extend the number of hours they were able to perform their assignments. So, yes, I feel it is appropriate to address the issue here and hopefully change one person's mind into becoming a quitter, or better yet, a lifetime non-user.
Not starting is particularly true for the teenagers and college kids out there that experience tremendous peer pressure to use the product. Let me give you some essential information.
Tobacco Use & Consequences
Smokeless tobacco use is back on the rise. The Federal Trade Commission's 2003 Report on smokeless tobacco states that, for the past three years of data (1999-2001), sales of smokeless tobacco (in pounds) has increased compared to a declining trend from 1991 to 1999. It is also estimated that 1 million teenagers will try smokeless tobacco this year. Advertising and product give aways at college campuses is a common method of recruiting new, young users.
Nicotine is the main ingredient of concern in smokeless tobacco. It is estimated that a normal, 30-minute dip of smokeless tobacco delivers the same amount of nicotine as 3-4 cigarettes. Nicotine affects the brain and central nervous system and changes neurotransmitters levels regulating mood, learning, alertness, and ability to concentrate.
Nicotine can also increase heart rate, constrict blood vessels and reduce circulation. Nicotine can act like a stimulant or a sedative, and causes the release of endorphins, which provide a tranquilizing effect. Finally, nicotine is considered more addictive than crack or alcohol.
If nicotine wasn't bad enough, there is a cocktail of other harmful chemicals associated with smokeless tobacco including: polonium 210 (nuclear waste), formaldehyde (embalming fluid), and arsenic. According to the American Cancer Society, chewing tobacco users are 50 times more likely than non-users to get cancers of the cheek, gums, and inner surface of the lips.
Quitting is a real, legitimate challenge. Considering the fact that I often work unusual hours I felt I needed the stimulant in my system to stay alert and awake. I was comfortable with the buzz and alertness response to nicotine particularly when pulling all-nighters. But I made my commitment to quit and was prepared for the consequences that included withdrawal and detoxification. I expected some of the common, significant withdrawal symptoms:
Common Withdrawal Symptoms:
Headache- Some noted, but not significant when I quit
Tiredness- A condition I noted due to lack of stimulant. I would say I adapted after the toxins were removed from my body, roughly three weeks in duration.
Depression- None noted.
Feelings Of Irritability, Frustration & Anger- Irritability was a major issue for roughly three weeks. I wasn't fun to live with at home or at work.
Trouble Sleeping & Restlessness- I didn't notice any of these symptoms
Difficulty Concentrating- I did notice some diminished mental capabilities during detoxification. And no, it is not because I'm getting older.
Increased Appetite- You bet. A definite issue that was difficult to deal with.
How I Quit
Having a reason to quit appears essential in any program that addresses addiction. I had my blood test results and they forced me into some serious thinking. I did the research and the only conclusion I had was to take better care of my throat area. To me, the root cause of my problems was many years of snuff use.
Solution to the problem - throw away the Copenhagen. And just like that, I finally got a significant reason to finally quit dipping. The economics of the habit was never enough. Other health risks, including cancer, were not enough to end the habit. The relationship with my loved ones never did it. But now, I had my reason.
Since I made the self-diagnosis, I now needed to take action. I looked for some resources on the Internet and guess what, there are plenty of sites that address quitting smokeless tobacco. Places to look at are listed further below, and if you dip, I recommend checking those sites out. I now had my reason and information on what I should do. All that remained was a plan of action.
Two common items that the various sources all pushed were picking a quitting date and letting other people know about your intentions to quit. I looked over my schedule and chose a Saturday after working a week of midnight shifts as the day. Additionally, the following two weeks were dayshift, so I would have some support at home during detox. This worked well since I felt my greatest need for nicotine stimulation was when I worked overnight.
I had cut back on the amount of dip I was doing leading to my final day. When Saturday arrived, I had a good workout in the morning and then went home and tossed my last can of Copenhagen away. I kept myself out of the house and pretty busy during the day to keep from going bananas. Yes, my mind was playing some tricks on me since I was without nicotine. The evening was tough as some boredom and cravings settled in. It was also like this on Sunday.
My saving graces were support from my wife and the multiple bags of Beef Jerkey I consumed. Most of the quitting organizations suggest finding some other item for oral stimulation. I chose Beef Jerkey because its protein based and tasty, and the fact that you can keep some of it between your cheek and gum after you chew on it for while. Other items they recommend are chewing gums, sunflower seeds, suckers, and fake chew (mint variety).
I started back to work on Monday and was able to maintain myself dip-free during the week without much of a problem. I did notice that I had a significantly shorter fuse with people and I tried to minimize my interactions since I knew what I was going through. I drank even more water than normal and was taking trips to the restroom nearly every hour. Additionally, I was easily going through a bag of beef jerkey daily. Here's something ironic, Copenhagen was less expensive than the jerkey habit at this stage.
I kept my evening hours shorter than normal due to irritability and need to get more sleep. I experienced significantly greater tiredness without dip. It is one of the withdrawal symptoms discussed and I found myself needing an additional hour of sleep daily during the first week, and roughly 30-60 minutes more during week two.
This effect tapered off as the toxins left my body. My weight lifting routine remained pretty much the same during this period of time and I didn't notice any significant increase or decrease in strength, endurance, pump, muscle soreness, etc. although my training records were not maintained as normal. My notes for the week read - diet so-so this week with heavy munchies with loss of cope, lots of water and good workouts.
Irritability was probably the greatest manifestation of detoxification. It was tough on both those around me as well as myself (I was very frustrated with how I was acting). I knew I was not my normal self, but I really couldn't control how I reacted towards others or events around me. I was acting without forethought, and usually it was a grumpier form of me that was thrust upon others.
A lot of my interactions ended up being very short and very blunt. This mood shift lasted about three weeks. It got so bad that my wife was even willing to go out and get me a can of snuff one night. Glad she didn't do it. I will say that the mood swing is the greatest challenge to cope with because you know you're doing the one's you care about wrong, but your brain is disengaged from the process of doing things the right way because of the ongoing detox.
Hunger was a significant issue to deal with. Nicotine normally suppresses hunger pangs. Without it, I was hungrier than ever. Six feedings a day was nothing. It felt like I wanted to feed my face every waking minute. I used as many low calorie alternatives as I could - carrots, celery, jerkey, nuts, pretzels - but a little increase in body fat was expected and should be planned for.
I'm working the diet a lot more closely now. My recommendation is - don't try to diet while eliminating nicotine from your life. You will probably meet with failure for both quitting and dieting. You can always change your diet after you kick the habit. One other note, my supplementation regime never really changed during the period.
By the end of the third week, I felt fairly normal again. How did I know I was back to normal? I noticed two behaviors return to normal: interactions and sleep. My interactions with people became better. Conversations were back to normal lengths, for me, and the dialogue wasn't as terse. The second item was sleep patterns.
I got back into the 6-7 hour sleep requirements without feeling additional tiredness like I did immediately after quitting. The eating patterns established during the quitting period persisted for some time longer as I felt I needed the oral stimulation. I'm back on a better diet now without the need for oral stimulation. And now, a few months down the road, I'm feeling better, lifting more weight, and making greater improvements in my body.
As I said in the beginning, I don't know why it took so long to finally quit the smokeless habit. I know that I did hold my progress back and it is wasted time I can never recover.
I will say that quitting smokeless tobacco is tough, but if you do use smokeless tobacco, seriously consider quitting as soon as possible. If you know someone who does dip, pass this along to him or her. I cannot provide you the reason the quit; but I will say that you'll be healthier for doing so and that others will be there to support you. Drop me a note and I'll provide support as well.
There are several organizations and sites out there for those that need assistance in overcoming the nicotine addiction. I recommend that you look at them for yourself and determine what you need. Personally, I liked reading a lot of the testimonies on www.quitsmokeless.org.
Others To Consider:
National Spit Tobacco Education Program http://www.nstep.org
U.S. Navy unofficial military manual for quitting No Dips and/or Butts
Nicotine-anonymous.org To The Dipper or Chewer
Family Doctor Smokeless Tobacco: Tips on How to Stop
American Academy of Otolaryngology Spit Tobacco - It's no Game
National Cancer Institute Smokeless Tobacco: Quitting