Quit smoking for good: What to do if you relapse

Posted at 1:09 PM, Sep 07, 2017

You decided to quit 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

Since you have previously tried to quit, you’ve got a leg up on someone who’s quitting for the first time—you already know what’s it’s like.

Why is a previous quit attempt an asset?

• You’ve learned a lot about yourself. You know which strategies work for you and which ones don’t. You can use that information to build a plan to quit for good.

• You’re not in denial. You know how hard it is to quit smoking because you’ve been through it before. Remember, quitting is a process. What matters is that you’re trying.

• You know the benefits. You know what it’s like to feel better after not smoking for a while. You’ve enjoyed less strain on your budget and your relationships, and not having to plan time to go out 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 needed 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. You still learned something from it. Now, you can adjust your strategy.

Remember, you’re not alone

If you tried to quit and weren’t totally successful, you’re not alone. Did you know:

• 75 percent of people who try to quit smoking relapse.1

• It takes most people three attempts before successfully quitting.1

• After 2 years of not smoking, 80 percent 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.

1. Focus on the next 24 hours. Get rid of your cigarettes, lighter, ashtray and anything else related to smoking. If you need to being around supportive people during this time, or going to another place, do that for yourself.

2. 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 (800) 556-6222 to get matched up. Or, talk to a friend or family member.

3. Analyze what happened. What happened right before you decided to smoke? Were you at a party? Stressed? Hungry? Knowing your triggers can help you be better prepared next time.

4. Build a new plan. If you have a quit coach, he or she will help you figure out how to adjust your quit plan to help you be successful. Quitting for good is all about being prepared.

Smoking relapse prevention strategies

Quitting for good 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 social situation where you wanted a cigarette, like at a party with friends or around the people you used to take smoke breaks with. You may even have felt “left out”. That’s not uncommon, and it’s a part of adjusting to living tobacco-free.

It’s important to be aware of situations that trigger cravings, and to either not put yourself in those situations or to replace those rituals with something else, so that you’re not tempted to smoke. For example, you might try a new habit to keep your hands busy, such as a fidget box, knitting, or playing with silly putty.



1“What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Smoking.” Health Essentials. Cleveland Clinic, 11 November 2015. Web. 15 January 2017.
2“Smoking Relapse Rates Drop Off Sharply After Two Years.” EurekAlert! American Association for the Advancement of Science, 27 February 2002. Web. 15 January 2017.