Do PTSD & ADHD make it hard to quit smoking?

Neither trauma nor specific learning difficulty/difference (SpLD) need prevent you from quitting easily.

John C. Dicey
12 min readApr 5, 2022

For more than 35 years we’ve received requests for advice by letter, email, and postcard from all over the world. We’ve answered every single one of them, and continue to do so with pleasure. I’ve undertaken to publish as many replies as I can in the hope that it will help even more people to freedom. Real-life questions from struggling smokers.

Dear John,

Does PTSD & ADHD make it hard to quit smoking? After searching the internet, I found that there are NO “quit smoking with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)” type books/programs available. I suffer from PTSD (because of many traumas) and I have been finding it extremely difficult to finish quitting through Easyway books. I also have ADHD.

I get part of the way through the Boot Camp book but retain many worries like, how will I fill my time on quit day? What should I do with my hands? What will I eat? I really felt like a moron for not ‘getting it’ and when I shared these feelings with my therapist, she asked if the book dealt at all with trauma — if not maybe I shouldn’t go through with it.

Shouldn’t there be some chapters that deal with PTSD and other issues? I’m not sure exactly how much would even need to be added to the book that already exists! By adding maybe 2–3 chapters to acknowledge those of us who must fidget and aren’t doing much all day it would help — no?

It’s hard to know how to handle the first days/weeks as a non-smoker and I’m compiling a list of hand-items to fidget with physically, such as Rubik’s cube, tops, fidget spinners etc, as well as a list of healthy snacks to munch on when needed — not to replace smokes — but so I have something to do! Carrots are better than sugary candy, I guess.

I think lists of ‘things to go do’ as well as ‘things to do with my hands’ and ‘healthy things to eat’ would all have been really useful, for me. If these things were taking into consideration, we could help so many more people. Did you know Veterans with PTSD only quit smoking at a rate of 8% success? WOW. Those veterans need us! Hettie, Pasadena, California

Hi Hettie,

Thank you for your thoughtful enquiry and enthusiastic suggestion for a new version of Allen Carr’s Easyway to Stop Smoking method designed to provide additional help to those living with PTSD, ADHD, and a host of other issues.

It appears that you are using the Boot Camp book — which is fabulous and relatively up to date. That said, the most up to date upgrade of the method is more recent than even that book. It’s called Allen Carr’s Easyway to Quit Smoking (as opposed to “Stop Smoking”) and has been received extremely well.

The latest, most up to date upgrade of the bestselling stop smoking book of all time — worldwide.

You can obtain the brand new upgrade of the method, ‘Allen Carr’s Easyway to Quit Smoking’ on the following links USA/Canada UK Rest of the World

This edition is the most up-to-date, cutting-edge, best-practice version of the method. It now includes advice on important contemporary issues such as vaping, cannabis, the association between smoking and self-harm & anxiety, the dopamine issue, and more advice about habitual triggers & stress.

The book doesn’t address PTSD directly — which is something we can perhaps mention next time we update the text, perhaps a reassurance to anyone with PTSD/ADHD etc, that all they need to do is to follow the instructions and that they will be absolutely fine. Other than that — it really wouldn’t need more than a sentence or two.

I can already sense you disagreeing with the above — so please do bear with me while I explain 😊.

Firstly, you make an excellent point, there is absolutely no harm in specifically mentioning PTSD within the text and its omission might cause doubts among some readers who live with it. I think for that reason alone we will consider its inclusion and I would like to thank you for raising the issue. We do have to be slightly careful — the more specific issues we mention in the text — the more likely it is that other sufferers of other issues might feel left out…and as you can imagine, if we had to mention the hundreds and hundreds of other issues people might suffer with — the book would become unwieldy and probably unreadable (and creating a different book for each of the issues would be unviable). I hope the words that follow reassure you why it simply isn’t necessary to take that kind of drastic action with Allen Carr’s Easyway to Stop Smoking program.

We’re extremely grateful to have a mountain of feedback from people who live with PTSD & ADHD, and other multiple issues who have successfully quit smoking easily with the books, Online Video Program, and Live Group Seminars (now available via Zoom too). Not only that, we’ve had further mountains of feedback from “serving” and “no longer serving” military veterans who also found the method highly effective in spite of their circumstances, experiences, and issues.

We have also conducted a wide variety of pro bono work specifically in the field of helping military veterans to quit smoking — and on all those occasions no special amendments were required for the programs to prove successful and the success rate you mention for veterans is entirely based on them using willpower methods and not Allen Carr’s Easyway.

OK, it’s important that we focus on your desire to get free from smoking — and by doing that, I’m hopeful that you’ll understand that in spite of all the terrible experiences you’ve lived through in your life, and in the nicest possible way, when it comes to stopping smoking — you are exactly the same as any other smoker on the planet. The exit for you is exactly the same, and hopefully as a result of my advice and guidance here — you’ll find it not only easy to stop — but to stay stopped. I’m certain of that, and it’s one of the reasons we offer free of charge advice and guidance to anyone who contacts us for support — it normally just takes a little extra advice and guidance from us for the method to gel.

At the moment, it’s your belief that you need to do something different, that you need to have some different instructions to other smokers that is creating a hurdle for you. It’s also clear that you’re not following one of our important instructions, to ignore any advice from others that contradicts Allen Carr’s Easyway.

I am certain that your therapist is excellent in every single way and you should certainly follow her advice. That said — I am fairly sure that her advice is based on a belief that it is hard to quit smoking, that smoking has perhaps helped you cope with things in the past, and therefore when you stop stopping it is bound to present you with significant challenges. That is all very true when people use the willpower methods to quit smoking — but it is not at all the case with Allen Carr’s Easyway.

It is hard for people to accept that anyone, let alone someone suffering with PTSD & ADHD, can stop smoking easily, without missing cigarettes at all, without having issues with stress & anxiety, and without having to battle against the inclination to smoke. To be clear — I do not mean to question the credentials or abilities of your therapist — quite the reverse — she sounds brilliant and hopefully my words do not cause offence to her but might perhaps have her understand why Allen Carr’s Easyway is different.

You need to be extremely clear in your thinking Hetty. It’s essential that you understand and accept that cigarettes haven’t ever helped you to cope with life, emotions, horrible experiences, PTSD, ADHD, or anything else. Once you understand and accept that, your mind is truly opened to understanding how on earth you (& perhaps even your therapist) were fooled into thinking that they did.

They never did help, they don’t help at the moment, and there is no situation at any point in the future where they might help.

As mentioned, understanding how you were fooled into believing that they helped, and therefore also fooled into thinking that there might be some kind of gap in your life, in the way you currently cope with PTSD & ADHD, stress, anxiety, boredom, or fidgetiness, when you quit, is key. The Boot Camp book, and possibly even more so, the latest upgrade of the method, is designed specifically to have you understand that.

It is only by assuming that you are different that this important information hasn’t resonated with you so far.

I want to address each of your points briefly here — but I would reiterate that these are handled much more comprehensively in the Boot Camp book and the latest upgrade of the method, Allen Carr’s Easyway to Quit Smoking (available on the following links USA/Canada UK Rest of the World).

“How will I fill my time on quit day?”

You just need to do what you normally do, other than smoking. The belief that smoking somehow “fills time” or “relieves boredom” is flawed. When you’re smoking you’re not “doing” anything. There will be moments after you’ve quit, on the first day and afterwards, when you’ll be aware that something is missing, and it might occur to you that this might be a moment when you would previously have smoked, but as long as you’re happy to be free — those won’t be challenging moments.

In fact, they will be moments of sheer pleasure.

It starts with you acknowledging that smoking is not only not a “time filler” but that it is not a particularly mind absorbing activity.

Allen Carr’s Easyway to Stop Smoking method explains how you have been fooled into thinking the opposite. It’s essential to note, any belief that smoking has been a time filler (or similar) for you is based on you retaining the belief that you chose to do it, that you were in control of your smoking, that you voluntarily regularly lit cigarettes in order to cure your issue of having time to fill/boredom to relieve.

Think about that. The reason you smoke is because you’re addicted to nicotine, it’s as simple as that. You didn’t choose whether to light those cigarettes — as a nicotine addict, you’re incapable of doing anything without a cigarette before, during, and after.

Your belief that smoking helped at those times is based on you missing the point about addiction and entertaining the belief that you smoked cigarettes, or even just some of your cigarettes, out of choice.

Do you really believe that you smoke 75% of the cigarettes you smoke because you’re an addict, but the other 25% of the cigarettes you smoke are out of choice, to solve a problem, to gain a benefit?

The reason you smoke every single cigarette is simple, you’re a nicotine addict!

“What should I do with my hands?”

You don’t smoke to give yourself something to do with your hands. See my answer above. You didn’t get into the habit of having cigarettes in your hand — which then caused you to get addicted you to nicotine! It’s the other way around, you got addicted to nicotine and subsequently got into the habit of having cigarettes in your hand. We make and break habits every day of our lives — the habitual thing is not why you smoke.

Again — once you’re free you’ll be aware sometimes that your hands seem a bit “spare” — but as long as you’re happy not smoking those will be moments of pleasure rather than moments of concern.

“What will I eat?”

You can just eat whatever you normally eat, whenever you normally eat it. Don’t assume that you’ll feel the need to eat instead of smoking. That’s called “substitution” and only happens to willpower quitters who feel they’re missing out on something and try to replace it with something else, normally food, candy, or drinks.

With Allen Carr’s Easyway you accept that once you’ve quit — you’ve escaped rather than given something up — therefore there is no reason to substitute.

Don’t prepare to substitute and you won’t feel the need to.

You’re getting rid of something — not giving something up. To substitute in those circumstances would be like getting over a terrible cold and wishing to catch a horrible dose of flu to take its place.

“I really felt like a moron for not ‘getting it’…”

You are definitely not a moron Hetty and the reason we offer free of charge advice to book readers all over the world is because some need a little extra help and guidance to get free.

The main difference between our books and our live group seminars is that in a live group seminar there are Q & As throughout, you can seek clarification on certain points, check out your understanding — this is something that is impossible to include in a book and the reason why the success rate of our live group seminars (in the room or via Zoom) is so much higher than for any of our books.

Not many people realise that the book is based on the live group seminar — it is a condensed, text-based representation of the method for those who couldn’t afford to attend a live group seminar or, in the past, didn’t have access to one. Now anyone can get access to the live group seminars via Zoom — wherever they are in the world.

Live Group Seminars — equally effective whether you “attend” in the room — or via Zoom

The live group seminars are the original version of the method, are clinically proven, and by a long way the most effective way of taking on board the method. Of course, you no longer have to worry about any of this stuff — take on my advice and guidance here — and you’ll be fine and dandy just by reading the book again (or perhaps the newer upgrade of the method if you fancy it, or even a live group seminar if you want to take the easiest route).

“What about those of us who must fidget and aren’t doing much all day”

I’d refer you to my earlier answer about filling time and boredom. This isn’t a function that smoking fills, and more importantly, isn’t why you smoke. Please do not compile a list of hand-items to fidget with physically (Rubik’s cube, tops, fidget spinners etc) let alone use them once you’ve stubbed out your final cigarette. Again, it’s a substitution kind of reaction, the sense that you’re bound to need something in place of a cigarette. You won’t. That starts with you understanding that smoking didn’t help you with this — so you really don’t need to replace it with anything (other than allow yourself to be amused, rather than worried, when you notice that “something is missing”).

“What about a list of healthy snacks to munch on when needed (not to replace smokes, but so we have something to do!)”

This is covered by my answers above — it would still be classic substitution activity and would ensure your failure rather than your success.

Even seemingly innocent food substitution like carrot sticks cause a problem — very soon they create, and then perpetuate a feeling that something is missing and because you are substituting, a conscious and sub-conscious conclusion occurs — that you’re experiencing a sense of loss of something valuable to you.

I’m really sorry to bore you with such a lengthy reply Hetty and I hope that it all makes sense. I’m sure that you’ll understand the drift of my advice and guidance, and that in doing so, you’ll be a happy non-smoker in no time at all.

Well done for getting in touch — the only people we can’t help are those who fail to take us up on our offer of free advice & guidance.

Best wishes

John at Allen Carr

The name, city, and state on the “postcard” has been changed to protect the sender’s identify.

From the desk John C. Dicey, London, England.

Support Link: Anyone reading this piece, experiencing similar (or entirely different) issues with stopping smoking can obtain free of charge advice from us via the following link. To obtain that guidance select SUPPORT on the link below. You’ll then get to fill out a short questionnaire about your experience with the method — and based on that — a senior Allen Carr Therapist will provide you with bespoke, detailed, free of charge advice on how to get the method to gel for you

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John C. Dicey

Former 80-a-day smoker who was freed by Allen Carr. Now Global CEO & Senior Therapist at Allen Carr’s Easyway (since 1998) & co-author of Allen Carr books.