Myths vs. Facts of Recovery From Nicotine Addiction

Close up of woman breaking cigarette
JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

If you're like many people, you've had cigarette quit attempts that you thought of as an event, a task that could be completed within a few weeks, or a month at most. Then, when the urge to smoke persisted beyond what you felt was reasonable, you despaired of ever feeling comfortable without cigarettes and started smoking again.

The fact is that quitting smoking is a process, not an event. While the worst of nicotine withdrawal is over within a matter of weeks, release from the habitual/emotional side of smoking comes more slowly. Here are some common misconceptions about quitting tobacco that can hinder your chances for success.

Myth: It's too Late to Quit; the Damage Is Done

Fact: It's Never too Late to Quit Smoking

Bluntly put, the only time it's too late to quit smoking is when you're six feet under.

When you stop smoking, the benefits begin within the first 24 hours of your last cigarette and continue to grow for years.

The human body is incredibly resilient, and while not all smoking-related damage can be undone, much healing can and will occur.

Psychologically, you'll have a better outlook once you've healed from nicotine addiction. Most of us spend years tied to cigarettes. We desperately want to stop, but time goes by, making us feel weak, powerless, and beaten down. This causes a slow destruction of self-esteem, usually so gradual we don't realize what's happening. It's no wonder that so many long-term smokers suffer from anxiety and depression.

Quitting tobacco will empower you much more than you can imagine. Once they grasp it, most people refuse to let go of the freedom that comes from taking back the control that addiction stole.

Myth: You Can Smoke One Cigarette and Maintain Your Quit Program

Fact: There's No Such Thing as Just One

For the vast majority of smokers, re-introducing nicotine after quitting leads back to full-time smoking. There is no such thing as just one cigarette for a nicotine addict. Smoking, even as little as a few puffs on a cigarette, is enough to awaken the beast within. And sadly, people who relapse often spend years trying to get a foothold with smoking cessation once again.

The fact is that indulging in even just one cigarette can lead to a relapse. If you want to boot nicotine addiction out of your life for good, live the philosophy of NOPE—Not One Puff Ever.

Myth: Relapse Can Happen Without Warning

Fact: Relapse Never Happens Without Warning

The road to relapse always starts in our minds. Unhealthy thoughts of smoking are normal as we move through recovery from nicotine addiction, but left unchecked, they can spell trouble. You'd probably be surprised to know that much of what we tell ourselves is negative and self-defeating. We're often our own worst critics.

Listen in on your thoughts and correct those that are counterproductive immediately. Don't give them a chance to fester and gain momentum. It doesn't matter whether you believe the correction—your mind is taking note, and that's all that matters.

Correcting faulty thinking will help to keep you in the driver's seat with your quit program.

Myth: You'll Always Miss Smoking

Fact: True Freedom Is a State of Mind

We all have the ability to make changes in our thinking that will bring lasting release from nicotine addiction. People who miss smoking years later have not let go of the emotional associations they had with smoking and usually think of it in a fond, nostalgic, or romantic light. They might even tell themselves subconsciously (or consciously) that quitting was a sacrifice. They quit smoking because they had to, but they loved smoking.

That kind of faulty thinking will keep the seeds of addiction alive, ready to take the root again when the opportunity presents itself. But make no mistake, it is your thoughts that hold you prisoner, not cigarettes.

Have you ever had a relationship go sour because of a change in attitude on your part? A shift occurs in your perception, and once your mind turns that corner, there's no going back. It's similar to the mental side of addiction.

Once we get clear of the physical need for cigarettes, what's left is an emotional relationship with smoking, much of which is based on ritual. Changing those thoughts and habits can prevent relapse.

The habit of smoking is powerful but reprogrammable. Add some education about nicotine addiction and support from people who are going through what you are to your quit program. It will make all the difference in helping you permanently free yourself from the desire to smoke.

Keep yourself in the present moments of today, and be grateful for each and every smoke-free day you complete. Be patient with yourself and think of time as one of your quit buddies. The more of it you put between yourself and that last cigarette you smoked, the stronger you'll become.

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.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. McLaughlin I, Dani JA, De Biasi M. Nicotine withdrawalCurr Top Behav Neurosci. 2015;24:99–123. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-13482-6_4

  2. Gometz ED. Health effects of smoking and the benefits of quittingVirtual Mentor. 2011;13(1):31–35. doi:10.1001/virtualmentor.2011.13.1.cprl1-1101

  3. Fluharty M, Taylor AE, Grabski M, Munafò MR. The association of cigarette smoking with depression and anxiety: A systematic reviewNicotine Tob Res. 2017;19(1):3–13. doi:10.1093/ntr/ntw140

  4. Kirchner TR, Shiffman S, Wileyto EP. Relapse dynamics during smoking cessation: recurrent abstinence violation effects and lapse-relapse progressionJ Abnorm Psychol. 2012;121(1):187–197. doi:10.1037/a0024451

  5. Lunden SE, Pittman JC, Prashad N, Malhotra R, Sheffer CE. Cognitive, behavioral, and situational influences on relapse to smoking after group treatment for tobacco dependenceFront Psychol. 2019;9:2756. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02756

  6. Bertin L, Lipsky S, Erblich J. Can attitudes about smoking impact cigarette cravings?Addict Behav. 2018;76:370–375. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.09.001