Strategies to Avoid Smoking Again After Stopping

Young woman smoking cigarette outside office building

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Most of us know someone who had a smoking relapse years after quitting. On the surface, it is frightening for those who are working hard to beat nicotine addiction. It feels like smoking is a nasty monster that follows us forever, waiting to pounce when we're least suspecting. That's not how it works though. Relapse never happens out of the blue, even though people often think it does.

The key to lasting freedom from this addiction lies in changing your relationship to smoking. If you quit smoking by sheer willpower, believing somewhere in the back of your mind that you're making a sacrifice by doing so, you're setting the stage for eventual relapse. 

Why People Tend to Relapse After They Stop Smoking

Emotionally, we think we're giving up something good when we think of making a sacrifice. That's the message your brain receives, and it's not an accurate or healthy one. You might be able to abstain for years and years, but if you believe this lie, you'll find yourself missing smoking and thinking of it as a fix when times of stress or other potential triggers come along.

However, if you do the work necessary to change how you think about your smoking addiction, you'll find your freedom and won't have to struggle to maintain it. That sounds great, but how do you go about making that change?

Key Strategies to Stop Smoking for Good

Use these tips to quit smoking once and for all.

Get Educated

All smokers know that smoking is bad for our health. We all know that it causes emphysema, lung cancer, and many other diseases. In order to continue smoking in the face of this harsh reality, we all had ways of compartmentalizing our habit. We justify our smoking habit to alleviate our mind.

We'd tell ourselves we had years before we needed to worry. We'd claim that smoking light cigarettes were better for our health than smoking regulars. We'd say that smoking disease happens to other people, not us. We had a hundred ways to rationalize smoking.

Eventually, though, the smokescreen wears so thin that the scales tip in the other direction. This is usually when people decide to do the necessary work to quit. Once that happens, it's time to take a good look at all of the issues surrounding smoking.

Learning everything you can about the dangers as well as what to expect when you quit will go a long way toward helping you start to make a permanent change.

Education is an important part of the process that will release you from this killer of an addiction. Be a sponge and soak up everything you can find about smoking/quitting.

Adjust Your Mindset and Self-Talk

A good attitude helps us more than a bad attitude. There's more to it though than just positive thinking. Truly changing your attitude when it comes to recovery from nicotine addiction involves retraining how you think. For most of us, it involves conscious effort and plenty of practice.

Begin by paying close attention to the literally thousands of thoughts floating through your mind on a daily basis. Capture negative thoughts as they arise and change or "retrain" them on the spot. You may not believe what you're telling yourself at first but do it anyway.

One of the lovely things about the way our minds work is that we tend to believe what we tell ourselves. Take advantage of that and feed yourself a steady diet of accurate information about the realities of smoking.

Don't romanticize cigarettes. Remind yourself that they don't offer anything of value and are, in fact, harmful to you (as well as those around you).

So, for instance, if you think something like:

I may as well give up. I've been smoke-free for months now, and I still miss smoking every now and then. I'll never be free of cigarettes.

Instead, tell yourself:

I need to be patient with myself. I smoked for a long time and reprogramming the hundreds of associations to smoking I've built up doesn't happen overnight. I know that cravings are signs of healing.

Or, if you think:

Smoking made life more enjoyable. It relaxed me and helped me cope with stress.

Instead, tell yourself:

Smoking was slowly killing me. Addiction to nicotine didn't really help with stress; it actually created most of the anxiety I felt. Smoking only relieved the physical withdrawal I experienced when the nicotine level in my bloodstream dropped. Once I've gotten through recovery, I'll be able to cope so much better without smoking than I ever did with it.

Changing the way we think isn't a miracle that just happens to us. We do the work to make the changes by paying attention to errant thoughts and making appropriate adjustments. If you notice your attitude is making a shift for the worse, this is the way to pull it back into line.

Be patient and allow for the time it takes to heal from this addiction. As you make your way through the first year, you will have experienced most of the situations in regular everyday life that trigger thoughts of smoking. Once faced, these triggers lose power. This all takes time and practice.

You are in the driver's seat with your quit program. Our actions are always within our control. Do the work to change your relationship with smoking, and you will find the release from the need to smoke that you want so badly.

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  1. Lunden SE, Pittman JC, Prashad N, Malhotra R, Sheffer CE. Cognitive, Behavioral, and Situational Influences on Relapse to Smoking After Group Treatment for Tobacco Dependence. Front Psychol. 2018;9:2756. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02756