Strategies to Avoid Smoking Again After Stopping

Young woman smoking cigarette outside office building

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A smoking relapse is a frightening possibility for those who are working hard to beat nicotine addiction. It feels like it can happen when you least expect it. But relapse never happens out of the blue, even though people often think it does.

The key to lasting freedom from nicotine addiction lies in changing your relationship to smoking. If you believe somewhere in the back of your mind that you're making a sacrifice by quitting, you might be setting the stage for eventual relapse. 

Why People Relapse After They Stop Smoking

One of the main reasons people relapse even years after quitting is their mindset. They might still believe that smoking is an enjoyable activity that they had to give up—not something they truly wanted to give up. The distinction is key.

When you still think of smoking as an enjoyable activity that you had to sacrifice, your brain receives the message that smoking is good and pleasurable.

You might be able to abstain for years, but if you still have a false belief that smoking is what you want underneath it all, you may find yourself missing smoking and thinking of it as a solution for times of stress or when you're triggered.

Key Strategies to Stop Smoking for Good

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.

Get Educated

Most people know that smoking is bad for your health. It can cause cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, emphysema, and more.

People who smoke tend to rationalize smoking. They think of reasons why the harmful effects of smoking might not apply to them.

Perhaps they compare themselves with others who smoke ("I don't smoke as much as that person"), or they smoke cigarettes with less tar and consider them a "healthier" alternative. Maybe they choose to believe they won't be prone to smoking-related illnesses until later in life.

When a person does become motivated to quit, however, it's time to take a good look at all of the issues surrounding smoking.

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

Adjust Your Mindset and Self-Talk

A good attitude helps us more than a bad attitude. 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 thoughts that float through your mind every day. Capture negative thoughts as they arise and change and "retrain" them on the spot. Instead of suppressing a thought about smoking, for example, acknowledge it and replace it with a new thought.

Do this as many times as you need to until you are able to let go of the original thought.

Reframe Your Beliefs

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).

Changing the way you think takes work, but when you start to notice negativity in your thought patterns, you can start to replace them with positive thoughts. If you notice your attitude is making a shift for the worse, reframing is the way to pull it back into a more realistic and comforting viewpoint.

Thought About Smoking
  • I may as well give up. I still miss smoking every now and then. I'll never be free of cigarettes.

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

  • I don't think I can quit. I just can't imagine my life without smoking. I've been smoking for so long.

How to Reframe the Thought
  • I need to be patient with myself. I smoked for a long time and I know that cravings are signs of healing.

  • Addiction to nicotine didn't really help with stress; it actually created more stress.

  • Anxiety about quitting is normal. But I can do it. With time, I'll feel much better without cigarettes.

A Word From Verywell

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

5 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.
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  2. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Health effects. Last reviewed April 2020.

  3. Wee LH, Binti Ithnin AA, West R, Mohammad N, Chan CM, Hasan Nudin SS. Rationalizations and identity conflict following smoking relapse: A thematic analysisJ Subst Use. 2017;22(1):47-52. doi:10.3109/14659891.2016.1143045

  4. Moritz S, Gehlenborg J, Wirtz J, Ascone L, Kühn S. A dismantling study on imaginal retraining in smokers. Transl Psychiatry. 2021;11(1). doi:10.1038/s41398-020-01191-9

  5. Eagleson C, Hayes S, Mathews A, Perman G, Hirsch CR. The power of positive thinking: Pathological worry is reduced by thought replacement in generalized anxiety disorderBehav Res Ther. 2016;78:13-18. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2015.12.017

By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.