How to Handle a Smoking Relapse

As bad as smoking is for your health, it can be just as bad trying to quit.

There are plenty of reasons to stop smoking – one being you’re more likely to stay alive. Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It causes more than 480,000 deaths – nearly one in five – each year in the U.S. (1).

It is well-known that people who smoke are at a higher risk for heart disease, a stroke, and lung cancer.


As people have become more aware of the drawbacks of cigarette smoking, many have quit. The CDC reports that cigarette smoking among U.S. adults declined from 20.9 percent in 2005 to 15.5 percent in 2016. However, nearly 38 million American adults smoked cigarettes in 2016 (2).

Quitting is not an easy task, and it takes a lot of time, patience and willpower. In fact, many people who quit smoking relapse at some point.

A 2016 study published in Addiction reports that it may take many smokers 30 or more attempts to quit before being successful (3).

So, if you are trying to quit cigarette smoking and you start smoking again, know that you are not alone. But don’t be put off trying again.

There are many ways to deal with relapses as you strive to quit. By sticking to simple rules and tips, you can almost guarantee that you won’t start smoking again.

main image to handle smoking relapse

Here are the top ways to handle a smoking relapse.

1. Identify Triggers and Avoid Them

To successfully quit smoking and prevent a relapse, it is very important to identify triggers that cause you to want to smoke. Once you are aware of the triggers, you can take steps to avoid them.

avoid triggers to handle smoking relapse

Triggers can be people, places, things and situations that set off your urge to smoke.

For instance, if being around friends who smoke makes you want to light up, it is better to avoid such company, at least until you are entirely smoke-free. While quitting, spend time with nonsmokers and go places where smoking isn’t allowed.

2. Forgive Yourself and Start Over

Relapses are common. You are just a human being and mistakes happen. It does not mean that you cannot quit smoking.

startover to handle smoking relapse

Forgive yourself for your mistake and start over again. In fact, learn what you can from your relapse and try to do better.

Always keep in mind that many smokers relapse and have to try more than one time to quit successfully.

Don’t wait for a miracle to happen and start again to reach your goal. The longer you wait, the more time you give your body to build up its addiction to nicotine again.

3. Think About the Benefits

As you restart your effort to quit smoking, continuously remind yourself why you want to quit and then take control again.

Start by thinking about the benefits of not smoking and why you wanted to quit in the first place.

see the benefits to handle smoking relapse

Think about your family, children, friends, and money, too. Also, analyze the long-term benefits of quitting smoking, which can include increased life expectancy, reduced risk of disease and cancer, and better health for your friends and family members.

Make a list and read the benefits aloud daily. By reminding yourself of the benefits, you become mentally prepared. This will help you handle a smoking relapse.

4. Get Acupuncture

Acupuncture can help you deal with a smoking relapse. In acupuncture, fine needles are inserted into a set of five acupuncture points on the ear to help curb your desire to smoke.

acupuncture to handle smoking relapse

Acupuncture also lessens irritability and restlessness. Plus, it helps in the detoxification process.

A 2001 study published in Preventive Medicine reports that adequate acupuncture treatment may help motivated smokers to reduce their smoking, or even quit completely, and the effect may last for at least 5 years (4).

When it comes to acupuncture, get it done only by a trained professional.

5. Massage Your Ears

Ear massage is another way to deal with a smoking relapse.

When you massage your ears, it stimulates acupuncture points, which in turn reduces the urge to smoke.

ear massage to handle smoking relapse

A 1999 study published in Preventive Medicine suggests that self-massage may be an effective adjunct treatment for adults attempting smoking cessation to alleviate smoking-related anxiety, reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, improve mood and reduce the number of cigarettes smoked (5).

Giving yourself an ear massage for about two minutes daily will help reduce cravings.

6. Practice Deep Breathing

Stress can trigger you to pick up a cigarette again, so you need to keep stress under control.

To reduce stress, one of the best things that you can do is practice deep breathing. Deep breathing will help you relax and calm down as well as stay focused in life.

deep breathing to handle smoking relapse

Deep breathing also improves lung capacity, eases nicotine cravings and improves the low mood.

A 2004 study published in Addictive Behaviors reports that controlled deep breathing significantly reduced smoking withdrawal symptoms, including cravings for cigarettes (6).

To perform deep breathing:

  1. Lie down on your back or sit straight in a chair.
  2. Put your hands on your abdomen and relax.
  3. Inhale deeply through your nose, while expanding your abdomen and then filling your lungs with air. Count to 5 as you inhale.
  4. Hold your breath and count to 3.
  5. Exhale slowly through your mouth. Again, count slowly to 5.
  6. Continue to inhale and exhale deeply for 10 minutes.

7. Use Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Apart from the natural aids for quitting smoking, you can also try Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). It helps reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms and cravings for cigarettes. It does so by supplying your body with nicotine. Most products used in NRT contain about one-third to one-half the amount of nicotine found in most cigarettes.

nicotine therapy to handle smoking relapse

Nicotine replacement therapy is safe when used properly. You should consult your doctor regarding which product to use.

A 2012 study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews reports that all of the commercially available forms of NRT (gum, transdermal patch, nasal spray, inhaler and sublingual tablets/lozenges) can help people attempting to quit increase their chances of successfully stopping smoking (7).

8. Stay Busy

To keep your mind off the desire to pick up a cigarette again, you need to keep yourself busy.

stay busy to handle smoking relapse

Do something productive that keeps both your hands and mind busy, such as knitting, doing a crossword, solving a puzzle, playing an online game or reading a book. The busier you are, the less chance you have to get distracted from your mission.

Apart from keeping your hands and mind busy, keep your mouth engaged by chewing sugarless gum, sucking on sugarless hard candies or eating cloves.

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