Time to read: 4 minutes
What you’ll get:
- Understand why people relapse
- Steps to take right now if you slipped
- How to prevent relapse in the future
You started quitting smoking, you felt good about it—and then something happened. You found yourself having a cigarette and maybe aren’t even sure why.
You’re not alone.
Smoking relapse happens. Even if you start smoking again after a year or more of quitting, it’s okay. Don’t get down on yourself.
Beginning to quit again does not mean you’re starting over.
How your relapse can help you
By quitting before you’ve got a leg up on someone who’s quitting for the first time—you already know what quitting is like. You can use that to your advantage to help yourself be more prepared the next time a scenario arises when you want to smoke.
Why is having quit before an asset?
- You’ve learned a lot about yourself. You know which strategies work for you (and which don’t). You can use that to your advantage this time to build a plan that will make you successful.
- You’re not in denial. You know how hard it is to quit smoking because you’ve been through it before. You’re going to be more prepared to help yourself with the areas that you struggle with. You also know that smoking again doesn’t make you a failure. It’s not something to beat yourself up about. Quitting is a process that takes time and energy, and making an attempt at all is the most important thing.
- You know the benefits. You know what it’s like to feel better after not smoking for a while. You’ve felt the benefits of less strain on your budget, your relationships and not having to plan out a time to go and smoke.
Quitting is like an experiment
The process of quitting smoking is like a science experiment. You began with a “hypothesis” of what you need to quit. You tried it out. This time, it didn’t work. But just because you didn’t get the results you wanted doesn’t mean it’s a failed experiment. There’s still something you learned from it. Ultimately, you’re trying to find the right collection of things that will help you stay away from cigarettes or tobacco every single day. Something didn’t work in this strategy you tried, and now you can change it to be more successful.
Smoking relapse definition
How to define a smoking relapse can be very personal. It means different things for different people. For some, if you just have one “puff,” that constitutes a relapse. For others, that’s just a “slip.”
Smoking slip vs relapse
Generally, a “slip” is defined as a “puff,” or smoking one or two cigarettes in the middle of a quit attempt. A relapse is often defined as smoking two or more times, or falling into your old pattern of smoking during a quit attempt.
No matter how you define it, the important thing to remember is that just because you smoked again doesn’t mean that everything you did is wasted. You made your first quit attempt, and the important thing is to keep trying.
Smoking relapse rates
Picking up smoking again while trying to quit is very common. Here are some statistics around the occurrence of relapse:
- Among people trying to quit smoking, 75% relapse.1
- It takes most people 3 attempts before successfully quitting.1
- After 2 years of not smoking, 80% of people are successful long-term.2
What to do if you start smoking again
Here are the steps to focus on right now if you slipped or relapsed on smoking:
- Focus on the next 24 hours. Try to think only about the day ahead. Get rid of your cigarettes, lighter, ashtray and anything else that you used or reminded you of smoking. Right now the most important thing you can do for yourself is just not to smoke. If that means being around supportive people for a while or going to another place, do that for yourself. It’s easy to fall into thinking, “Well I messed it all up so I might as well smoke more.” But that’s not true. You just had a detour on your course and you can get back on track. No matter how many slips you may have, as long as you keep trying to quit you are succeeding.
- Talk to someone. Call, email or text your Quit Coach to talk about what happened. If you don’t have a Quit Coach yet, call us at 1-800-55-66-222 to get matched up. The first phone call is about 15 minutes long and asks you questions about your smoking history and why you want to quit. If you can’t or don’t want to contact a Quit Coach, talk to a friend, family member or supporter who is willing to listen about how you feel.
- Analyze what happened. What happened right before you decided to smoke? Were you at a party? Stressed? Hungry? Was there an event, person or situation that triggered you? Knowing this information can help you tweak your plan to better prepare for next time.
- Build a new plan. If you already have a Quit Coach, he or she will help you determine what you need to add or change in your Quit Plan to help you be successful this time. If you don’t have a Quit Coach, think about the tools you used to help you quit before and determine what worked and what needs to change. Staying quit for good is all about planning and preparing to meet as many challenges with as many tools as possible.
Smoking relapse prevention strategies
Success in quitting for the long-term is all about planning.
If you had a smoking relapse after 3 months or so, it may have been because you found yourself in a specific social situation where you wanted a cigarette. Like at a party with friends or around the people you used to take a smoke break with. You probably experienced a sense of feeling “left out”. That’s very common and it’s a part of adjusting to living tobacco-free. It’s important to keep an eye out for these scenarios and either don’t put yourself in that situation or replace that ritual with something else so you’re not tempted to smoke.
For example, if you find yourself in a social situation where others are smoking, you could pick up a new habit for stuff to do with your hands that can keep you from smoking.
Here are a few examples:
- Carry around a fidget box
- Take up knitting – This hobby is very tactile and requires your concentration which can be really helpful for distracting your mind from a nicotine craving.
- Play with silly putty
- Have fun with a mini magnetic sculpture
- Play with the specially designed fidgeter’s pen
1“What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Smoking.” Health Essentials. Cleveland Clinic, 11 November 2015. Web. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2015/11/happens-body-quit-smoking-infographic. 15 January 2017.
2h “Smoking Relapse Rates Drop Off Sharply After Two Years.” EurekAlert! American Association for the Advancement of Science, 27 February 2002. Web. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-02/cfta-srr022702.php. 15 January 2017.