The cravings go away, I promise

Echo writer Josiah Stuart shares his personal story of quitting nicotine

Thousands of young people around the country are addicted to nicotine. It's easy to judge those people for using something that's not good for them, but nicotine is one of the hardest drugs to quit — I know from personal experience.

I quit vaping in September of 2019, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. So I wanted to share my story of quitting in hopes that it might help someone else during their journey. 

My first experience with vaping was at the end of my junior year of high school, when I was 17. I was hanging out with some friends at a party, and someone had a JUUL. I had heard about vaping before and seen some of my friends do it, but I had sworn it all off so that I wouldn’t become addicted. But then it was right in front of me, someone’s hand casually offering it to me. So I took it. And I didn’t feel anything. I had pulled the vapor into my mouth and exhaled, but nothing had gone into my lungs, so the nicotine wasn’t absorbed into my bloodstream. I continued for the next few months to take vapor into my mouth when I was with my friends who vaped. 

The summer afterward, I was hanging out with one of my friends. We had been waiting on some more of our friends to get to his house, just talking, when the conversation turned to vaping and he offered to take me down to Circle K to buy me a JUUL of my own — he was already 18, so it wasn't a problem. I stayed in the car while he went in with my money and came out with a JUUL. After that, the same pattern continued over the summer — I would use my JUUL when I was out with friends, but I never fully inhaled it until the next school year. 

One day after the start of senior year, I saw my friend "ghost," or hold the vapor in their lungs so long that when they exhaled, it wasn't visible anymore. I had seen my friends do it before and I wanted to try it, so I asked one of my friends how to do it. They told me I had to breathe all the way into my lungs and just hold my breath for as long as I could before breathing out. So I pulled the vapor into my lungs for the first time. To describe that initial feeling as a buzz seems like an understatement. It hit my brain almost instantly and everything faded away — the only thing I knew in that moment was that I felt incredible.

After that, I started to inhale more often. After maybe a month of that, I caught myself becoming more and more addicted to the nicotine I was flooding my bloodstream with. So, in an effort to quit, I threw away my JUUL. 

But a few weeks later, I turned 18 and bought another one. I hadn’t been experiencing withdrawal or anything, which is partly why I didn’t think getting another JUUL would hurt. But then I started vaping more and more. By the time I tried to quit again, I faced pretty serious withdrawal symptoms. It was hard for me to sleep. I was irritable with my friends and family. Cravings were almost constant. 

I got to about a month without nicotine and then started again, saying that as long as I practiced moderation, I would be fine. This process continued over the next year. I would quit, and then two or three weeks later I would come up with a reason that it was ok for me to start again.

Then I got to ASU. Suddenly, I was unsupervised at almost every minute of the day. I had a decent amount of spending money and a good amount of my new friends vaped, so I had constant access to nicotine. I would wake up and hit whatever I had in my drawer. Then, I would hit a JUUL or Puff Bar — either mine or someone else's — almost constantly throughout the day. By this point, I wasn’t even getting a rush from it throughout the day. It was just something I would do when I was bored. The only rush I would get would be first thing in the morning. 

After a month of almost constant nicotine exposure, I decided that I didn’t want to do it anymore — the quitting and the starting again, the terrible feelings I would get when I didn’t have nicotine. If I quit this time for good, I would never have to go through any of it again. So, I quit. 

I told all my friends that I was quitting and asked them to help me by putting their vapes away when I was with them. I also didn’t let anyone have vapes out in my room. But even with the support of my friends, quitting was immensely difficult. I faced withdrawal symptoms with an intensity that I never had before. I couldn’t sleep for hours after lying down, and I was extremely irritable. I faced anxiety and depression that I thought was caused by my addiction. 

Withdrawal symptoms vary between everyone. However, according to Scott Leischow, a professor at ASU with an extensive background and research into tobacco and nicotine addiction, symptoms tend to be "craving, sometimes depressed affect, irritability, sometimes difficulty sleeping ... sometimes they'll want to eat more."

There were a couple of things that helped me get through it. I drank a lot of water whenever I’d get a craving, for example. But to be honest, a good portion of what got me through withdrawal and helped me quit for good was a kind of hate that I gained for nicotine. Instead of thinking "nicotine will make me feel better than I do now," I thought "if not having nicotine is making me feel this way, I want it gone and I never want to touch it again."

Along with that though, my friends’ support was absolutely necessary. Without their encouragement and care, I don’t think I would’ve been able to quit for good. Leischow says this is actually fundamental in quitting, saying that "social norms and social environment can make or break a person."

I quit vaping more than four and a half months ago. I stopped having cravings two or three months afterward. While the time frame is different for everyone, Leischow suggested that most people get through withdrawal well within a month. 

Quitting didn't really solve all my problems, but it did bring a lot of them to the surface. In hindsight, I probably was attempting to self-medicate and keep my mental health problems at bay, but now that I don't have nicotine to hide behind, I've begun to pursue healthy ways to actually solve them.

I want you to know that if you push through, it does get easier. The cravings go away, I promise.


Reach the reporter at jdstuart@asu.edu and follow @stuart_josiah on Twitter. 

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