Two weeks have passed since I started quitting all addictions: drinking alcohol, smoking (nicotine), sugar, and caffeine.
It was on the 9th of August that my journey into madness began. That day, a brilliantly bright and hot Tuesday.
That day was the day I:
- Finally quit cigarettes and nicotine because I found the best way to stop smoking (READ: Quit Smoking with Meditation).
- Beat my sugar addiction
- Stopped drinking alcohol
- Drank Coca Cola for the last time
- And gave up TV
It was the painful beginning of my addition-free life. And yes, giving up alcohol, smoking, nicotine, and sugar simultaneously was brutal. I only really got through by using meditation to stop cravings.
But. I DID get through. So. Let me share with you the story of my descent into hell. You won’t believe what happened.
How I Quit All Addictions At The Same Time
Okay, so I didn’t entirely give up caffeine, alcohol, and smoking at precisely the same time. It was a process. Kind of like a long stroll over boiling coals in bare feet. It all began with sugar and ended with me giving up drinking.
I quit sugar addiction
It all started with sugar addiction (the unnatural kind—I still eat fruit). Let me tell you; it was not easy.
Sugar delights your tongue but damages your brain. And it is one of the most addictive substances in the world.
How addictive is it? It is harder to quit sugar, drinking, nicotine or what?
Vitality Coach Dr Sally Norton says that sugar is as addictive as cocaine . Yup, your pleasant little candies are comparable to a Class A drug. Scientists tested this by taking a poor, unsuspecting little mouse, putting it in a cage, stuffing it full of cocaine until it was addicted, and then stuffing it full of sugar until it was hooked on that too. Then, the scientists gave the mouse a choice of cocaine or sugar, and the mouse chose sugar.
What does this story prove—other than that we need to start treating mice better? It demonstrates that sugar addiction is worse than cocaine.
So naturally, giving up sugar is not easy. Actually, if we looked at what’s worse in a battle of a nicotine VS sugar VS alcohol VS caffeine, sugar would probably come out on top.
That said, if I may pat myself on the back for one moment: I did manage to quit the sweet stuff. Here’s how.
It’s basically a 5 step process.
- Get rid of all sugary treats in the house (go do it now)
- Pour sugary drinks down the sink (yes, Coca Cola too; go do it)
- Meditated a LOT.
- Cooking for myself (this is huge because even healthy foods that are pre-made are usually full of junk)
- Eating more healthy treats (basically fruit). And yes, there is sugar in fruit, but it is good sugar.
That was my Tuesday. And the first day was brutal, but things would get worse as I continued my journey to a life without sugar alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine.
Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms Hit Me In The Balls
Come Wednesday, I was already experiencing the fun, Merry-Go-Round of withdrawal symptoms.
By Wednesday lunchtime I was twitching like a severed limb. I hadn’t had any lumps of the sweet stuff in my tea, and the porridge for breakfast woefully lacked in refined sugars. My stomach grumbled at me. “Burrrrr. Bloody porridge? Supposed to have brown sugar on porridge, not just milk.”
Soon, the grumbling of my stomach was joined by the grumbling of my head, which started to ache.
Headaches are one of the most common symptoms of sugar withdrawal. It’s also a withdrawal symptom that sets in very quickly. After 24 hours of quitting, my head was banging like a rabbit on Viagra.
I decided not to take paracetamol. Instead, I told myself, “This headache was caused by years of unhealthy eating. Because my body gets thrown out of whack when it doesn’t get the unhealthy substances it’s accustomed to.”
This would become something like a mantra as I quit all addictions at once. Any time I felt like crap, I reminded myself that it was my body getting back to being healthy. It wasn’t quitting any addiction that caused the symptoms; it was the fact that I’d had those addictions in the first place.
I felt bad but good.
The funny thing is, even though I had a headache and my stomach was trying to trick me into believing I was hungry, I felt great deep inside. I’d done something excellent for my health. And even through the headache and food cravings, I felt optimistic and ready for a new challenge.
Giving up one thing had made me feel great. Time to give up something else. Yes, I was going to give up my vices simultaneously. So what would come next?
I had my choices. I could have quit coffee, smoking and nicotine, alcohol… The logical choice is to quit smoking, right? Cigarettes are the worst thing for your health. I mean even if we compare tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine, you’d have to say cigarettes are the worst. So, quitting smoking would be the best thing I could do for myself.
I didn’t choose to quit smokes. I wasn’t ready. Before I could do that, I decided I would quit coffee because coffee and smoking go together like tea and biscuits.
I Chose To Quit Coffee Before Smoking Or Alcohol
I had successfully given up sugar; well, for one day. And it felt good. It had given me the motivation I needed to quit smoking, coffee, and drinking. The coffee came first.
I chose to quit coffee before smoking or drinking alcohol because I knew that cigarettes were my ultimate goal. And I knew that if I failed in my attempt to quit other addictions, it would seriously mess-up my motivation.
To overcome depencies, we need high levels of motivation; especially when we quit multiple addictions at the same time.
Motivation works in streaks. Start successfully quitting multiple things and you will carry on the streak. This is largely why I was quitting sugar, caffeine, drinking alcohol and smoking, in that order. Quitting other things would help me quit smoking, which is my real vice.
I wanted to make sure I had the motivation to stop smoking. Coffee addiction would be a great test. Plus, I knew a dirty little secret: There is a big link between caffeine and cigarettes. Caffeine makes you want nicotine.
Most people, including your run-of-the-mill doctor, will tell you that coffee and smoking go together so well because you associate the two together. You’ve grown accustomed to having those two things at once, so whenever you have one your brain habitually wants the other (actually this is one reason why quitting multiple addictions at once is a good idea).
Caffeine affects dopamine
Why do coffee and cigarettes go together like Mork & Mindy? Actually, the truth about that is pretty deep. Caffeine makes your brain significantly more receptive to dopamine .
When you have a coffee and then a cigarette, you get many times the dopamine you get from a cigarette alone. In other words, caffeine makes your smoking high that much higher. We’re talking the Everest of highs (at least for people who don’t do harder drugs, which I’ve personally never done).
Plus, caffeine makes nicotine leave your system faster than usual. This is why lots of people smoke more after having caffeine because the caffeine depletes the nicotine so they need another fix. That depletion also makes you feel more anxious, which makes you want to smoke even more.
This is why it’s a good idea to quit smoking and caffeine at the same time.
Coffee and cooking go together because of the effect they have on dopamine.
Caffeine makes your brain release dopamine quicker. Because of that, caffeine will make your cravings stronger for all dopamine-related habits.
All this put together meant that if I wanted to quit smoking, quitting coffee was an essential first step.
Wednesday morning, I threw my cup at the wall as hard as I could. It smashed into a million pieces. A waste of a cup. But it sent a clear message to my brain telling me I would not drink my Nescafe again.
- Threw my cup at the wall like a boss.
- Drank green tea instead (it still has some caffeine, but it’s infinitely healthier).
- Constantly reminded myself that feeling like I had no energy is part of quitting addictions. This is huge. Just accept the fact that you feel bad when quitting addictions and stop trying to feel good. Seriously, just be okay feeling like trash for a while. Let yourself feel like garbage and tell yourself that feeling like crap is part of the healing process.
Coffee Withdrawal symptoms
I already had a headache from giving up candy. Now I had a headache, stomach ache, couldn’t take a dump (because constipation is one of the most common withdrawal symptoms of caffeine withdrawal), was very, very tired, and sleepy… I felt like trash.
Again, I told myself that I was feeling bad not because I had quit coffee and sugar simultaneously, but because I had started doing them in the first place. Stopping would soon make me healthier.
Here is the good news: Having quit sugar and coffee, I wasn’t experiencing the depression that many people talk about. I was in a good mood. A little irritable, yes. And when David called from India to tell me that my computer had a virus, I did tell him to go to hell. Sorry, David. I was ratty. But I was not depressed. Actually, I felt even more motivated to give up all addictions at the same time. But I needed a break, or so I thought.
After quitting coffee, I quit smoking by accident
Thursday, I told myself I wouldn’t give up anything new. Sure, I was still smoking, which of course causes cancer [thankfully there are things like meditation to prevent cancer].
But I’d done enough for now. Giving up coffee and sugar at the same time was enough for now. Surely I didn’t need to quit caffeine AND nicotine AND the sweet stuff… I mean, give me a break, right?
Here’s the messed up thing though: Thursday morning I was so damned tired from quitting all my vices that I actually couldn’t be bothered to step outside to light up a cigarette.
Let me repeat that: I actually could not be bothered to step outside to have a cigarette.
And perhaps some part of my brain was waiting for the coffee before smoking. Having quit sugar and coffee, my brain would be waiting forever to get the trigger (my morning coffee).
I’d unearthed my subconscious habits. As long as my brain was waiting for the cup of Nescafe that would never come, I’d delay my morning cigarette.
Four hours into Thursday, it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t want a cigarette. I’d put so much effort into being healthier that the idea of smoking at this point seemed bloody ridiculous. I felt like if I stepped outside and lit up, I would be destroying all the effort I’d put in. I felt like all the time I had felt like crap would be wasted.
So, I didn’t smoke. I didn’t do anything. I sat on the couch all day watching the Olympics.
Obviously, at times, my brain said “Wow, I would love a cigarette right now”, but then some other part of my brain said, “I’m too lazy to go outside and have one.”
It just happened
I’d love to tell you that it was my Herculean willpower that stopped me lighting up that day, but it wasn’t. It was the fact that I straight up could not be bothered to go out for a puff. Quitting smoking was literally a matter of being lazy.
I sat on the couch all day, barely conscious, after all the withdrawal symptoms, but that actually made it easier to quit smokes because my brain felt numb and every time I craved a cigarette I would just think, “What’s the point?”
This was when I realised that quitting all addictions at once was a genius idea because I know that I would not have quit smoking if I had not quit coffee and sugar.
And the Olympics were so awesome on Thursday that I didn’t want to miss a second of it, so I stayed right there on the couch like a potato.
So by Friday morning, I had quit sugar, coffee, and smoking.
Now here is the insane thing:
Some part of my brain was now getting addicted to giving up addictions (oh, the irony). Sounds crazy. Until you realise the science.
Your brain releases dopamine when you continue a streak. For instance, if you gamble and you win, you go on a winning streak that is a mini-addiction, and that’s why you keep going until you lose.
I was addicted to quitting addictions.
So, the dopamine I would get from a smoke I was now getting from continuing my streak of quitting multiple addictions at the same time. And that meant that my brain now wanted to find more bad habits to give up. What would come next?
I might as well stop drinking, right?
So by now, I had quit caffeine and nicotine and sugar. Drinking alcohol was logically the next thing.
It was Friday, and my Facebook Messenger was blowing up with friends messaging me to ask me out that weekend for a drink. Most of the invites were to watch The Tragically Hip’s final show.
One problem: If I started drinking alcohol, I would light up. I knew that because it happened the last time I gave up the smokes.
Drinking alcohol makes it oh so easy to give in to all sorts of temptations. If you go out drinking within a few months of quitting nicotine, you’ll probably relapse. More than half of all smoking relapses occur after drinking
I’d been successful in quitting smoking. And quitting drinking felt like it would be easy in comparison.
Okay, at this point I had only quit a few vices for a day or two, but the first day of stopping is the hardest. I’d succeeded for one day. I wanted to protect my success. That meant giving up alcohol.
Thankfully, if you ask me which is easier between quitting smoking or quitting alcohol, I’d have to say that drink is way easier.
But that’s just me.
I’ve never been a heavy drinker. My father was an alcoholic. It killed him. And it put our family through hell and made my childhood a nightmare. I knew I never wanted to become dependent on drinking. So I’ve always drunk just a few socially, and never any more than that (well, except for one time when I was sixteen when I passed out in a club and somehow ended up vomiting uphill, with gravity moving back toward my face—I’ll allow you to finish that mental image).
Smoking and drinking go hand in hand.
Different addictions influence each other
You might think that’s only true when quitting smoking. Alcohol gets you intoxicated; you’re less conscious of what you’re doing, you end up having a cigarette. But recent scientific research  shows that most alcohol relapses occur when having a smoke, too. So basically, you’re best off quitting alcohol and smoking at the same time. Given that 80-95% of alcoholics smoke, there’s a lot to mull over there.
And this is yet another reason to give up multiple addictions at once because they feed off of each other.
One bad habit affects another.
Let’s take a look:
Why You Should Give Up Multiple Vices Simultaneously
It’s the case with coffee and smoking, coffee and drinking, alcohol and smoking… it’s even the case with adult videos. All those vices feed off each other.
Smoking And Alcohol: Alcohol increases the brain’s response to nicotine receptors, so when you drink, you want to have a puff.
Alcohol And Smoking: Nicotine increases the desire to drink and, in fact, to do any action that results in a dopamine hit.
Caffeine And Smoking: Caffeine makes the brain deplete nicotine faster, increasing your cravings for cigarettes.
Smoking And Caffeine: Interestingly, there is an inherited genetic variant that makes people want to smoke. And that same gene makes people want to drink coffee. That’s why smokers drink more coffee.
Coffee And Alcohol: Caffeine overrides the sleepiness that alcohol causes. That’s why a lot of alcoholics drink more coffee.
Sugar And Coffee: How many people put sugar in coffee? There’s a reason. Research shows that drinking coffee or caffeine changes the way we perceive sweetness, and this makes us crave sugar more.
So yeah, basically quit all additions at the same time. Because they all make you crave the other addictions more. So the more things you stop, the fewer cravings you have. Weird, huh?
It Makes Cessation Easier And Prevents Relapse
I had thought it would be impossible to quit all addictions simultaneously. But it began to dawn on me that it is easier to give up all addictions than to give up just one.
Because one bad habit prompts another. Because they are all the same addition. They are all basically dopamine addiction, the pleasure-reward neurochemical that gets you hooked.
The reason these substances are addictive is that they make your brain release dopamine, the pleasure chemical. So in fact, all these “different” addictions are the same thing: dopamine.
Adult videos also release dopamine. Watch some steamy sex scenes, and your brain will start releasing dopamine. Continue to do this, and you’ll get hooked. And because this one bad habit releases dopamine—which is the root cause of your bad habits—watching one video will just as easily lead to having a cigarette as drinking alcohol will.
That’s the real benefit of giving up all addictions at the same time. They’re the same thing.
If you give up just one bad habit you’re still allowing yourself to get your unhealthy dopamine fix elsewhere. That’s why people who quit smoking eat more—they’re not getting dopamine from one vice so they’ll get it from another. And it’s also why you’re best off quitting all addictions at the same time (even if you have to gradually cut down to get there). Because once you overcome the real habit, the dopamine, you’re free for life. You’re not substituting one vice for another, you’re done, forever.
Benefits of simultaneous cessation
So now I’ve quit all my addictions, I am starting to feel much better.
- I’m breathing properly.
- I’m losing weight.
- My energy levels are becoming balanced.
- And I’m starting to feel happier (slowly. I’m still going through withdrawal right now).
- And I feel damn proud and am not ashamed to say so.
But of course, I do have cravings. I won’t lie to you. I could totally cave-in and have all my vices right now. I could have a bottle of Irish Coffee while puffing on a smoke while eating candy. And if I did that, I’d feel as high as a kite—
For a second.
And then I would feel like trash two seconds later.
So I will keep walking forward in health, even if I sometimes have to go through hell.
No, it’s not easy.
If you’re thinking that quitting all addictions at once leaves me feeling like I’m missing out… you’re right
I do miss my vices. I miss them all equally, and somehow because I want all of them, I won’t cave in to any of them.
Because every time I crave a smoke, I think “Ooooh, I could have candy instead”.
And every time I want candy, I think, “Would I rather have a beer?”
And my brain is so tired from these withdrawal symptoms that I can’t be bothered to decide which one of these vices I want most. So I just don’t have any of them.
I will live an addiction-free life.
Maybe you will join me?
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Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison