Stop a Smoking Slip From Becoming a Relapse

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As of Dec. 20, 2019, the new legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.

Smoking one cigarette after you quit doesn't erase all of your efforts to be smoke-free. However, for some, a single smoking slip means the difference between successfully quitting and returning to smoking full-time.

How you choose to move forward is up to you. Do what you are comfortable with, but make sure you take some time to analyze and correct the underlying reasons why you picked up another cigarette in the first place.

How to Prevent a Smoking Relapse

A smoking "slip" means different things to different people. For instance, someone might view one puff of another's person's cigarette as a slip, whereas another person might smoke one or two cigarettes and call that a slip.

Regardless, a slip can be thought of as the first time you have any amount of a cigarette after quitting. But don't let that discourage you. Quitting smoking is hard. The risk of relapsing is the highest a few weeks after initially quitting smoking, but some people relapse months or years after quitting.

Having a go-to list of tips to follow after slipping up can help refresh your goal of quitting and clean the slate for more smoke-free days ahead.

Remember the Risks

Having one cigarette after quitting means you've reintroduced nicotine into your body. Nicotine addiction is powerful; one cigarette can be enough to trigger you to pick up your smoking habit again after quitting.

A single puff from a cigarette releases a rush of adrenaline, which sends a signal to the brain to produce higher levels of the feel-good chemical dopamine.

It's so easy to become addicted to smoking because people who smoke associate each puff with pleasure.

However, smoking puts you at risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and more life-threatening health conditions. Smoking is also linked with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

Keeping the risks in mind can give you perspective and remind you how much better off your health is when you live smoke-free.

Think of the Reasons Why You Quit

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking causes upwards of 480,000 deaths per year in the United States. Dive back into why you quit smoking in the first place. Think about how you felt on your quit day.

  • Did you dislike that you couldn't stop smoking?
  • Did you have a chronic cough or shortness of breath?
  • Did you spend a lot of time wishing you could quit smoking, once and for all?
  • Were you embarrassed by your smoking habit?
  • Were you living in fear of contracting a smoking-related illness?
  • Were you sick and tired of smoking?

None of the reasons you had when you quit smoking are any less true today. It's easy to lose sight of the importance of what you're doing when you get a few months of smoke-free time under your belt.

Maybe that chronic cough is gone, or you've convinced yourself that quitting isn't that hard and you can smoke for a day and get right back to your quit. But if you do light up, you might be tempted to start smoking regularly again.

Revisit your list of reasons, or start a list if you haven't already. Read everything you can find about the effects of smoking, even if you've read it all before. A refresher will help build your resolve back up.

Learn From Your Mistakes

Slipping up by having a cigarette gives you a chance to become stronger. Ask yourself why you slipped up. What were the circumstances? Were you around other people who were smoking? Were you trying to cope with tough emotions?

After you quit smoking, triggers to smoke can be some of the most challenging obstacles between you and your goal. One study found that the most common reasons people relapsed after quitting smoking were:

  • Experiencing stress
  • A lack of pleasure
  • Being in a smoking environment

These factors can help you figure out what most triggers you to smoke. What are the emotions you have trouble facing without a cigarette? Some common ones are anxiety, boredom, happiness, or loneliness.

Maybe you have trouble resisting a craving after breakfast or when you're driving in your car. It's especially difficult when you are around others who are smoking.

Try New Coping Mechanisms

If you know what caused you to slip up you can learn healthy coping mechanisms to deal with it differently next time. For instance, when you're stressed, maybe you do some deep breathing or go for a walk to relieve your emotions instead of giving in to a craving.

It's important to reward yourself when you quit. Since you're no longer smoking, you aren't getting that release of dopamine. But there are natural ways to increase your dopamine levels, like dancing to your favorite song, that can help you feel good. Make time to feel good throughout your day.

It's normal if you don't want to be around others who are smoking. Make sure to tell your friends and family that you are serious about quitting and you'd appreciate it if they didn't smoke around you.

You might need to use healthy boundaries, especially when you first quit, to prioritize a smoke-free environment over people and places that will trigger a craving.

Show Yourself Compassion

Slipping up after you quit smoking is common—you're not a bad person or a failure. Watch your self-talk. If you find you're talking down to yourself and being negative, try to correct the thought and replace it with a more positive statement.

Focus on the times you were able to resist cravings and avoid smoking. Use these memories as proof that you can trust yourself to continue on the journey of quitting.

Get Support

Slipping up can be stressful, but you don't have to go through it by yourself.

Talk to trusted friends and family members about it. Look into a quit smoking support group where you can share your story with others who are trying to quit.

Listening to other people's stories of slip-ups and relapses can help give you the motivation to stay smoke-free as well.

There are also quit smoking apps that can direct you toward other helpful resources and even text you words of encouragement as you are quitting.

There are quit-lines to quit smoking as well, where you can speak to a counselor about your concerns and they can help get you back on track with advice on staying smoke-free.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Smoking after you quit can be stressful; but try not to be too hard on yourself. The journey to successfully quitting smoking isn't easy, but it's worth it. Be patient and give yourself the time you need to allow for healing, both physically and emotionally.

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