That’s the million dollar question. Unfortunately, only around 6% of people who quit smoking manage to stay off cigarettes indefinitely. There are no clear reasons why some people relapse while others don’t but it does have a lot to do with the attitude former smokers have towards cigarettes.
Some people never get over smoking – there are smokers who have been abstinent for 20 years and more and they still say that they sometimes miss cigarettes. Generally, people who spend too much time thinking and obsessing about cigarettes are the ones who relapse more easily. Learn more about why smokers relapse.
Attitude toward Smoking
From the day you quit smoking you have to start thinking of yourself as a non-smoker. Cravings will come and go but you have to dismiss them as remnants of a past life. It’s natural to count days, weeks and months since you’ve been smoke-free – after all, you will want to reward yourself for some of those milestones – but keeping at it for an unreasonable amount of time is not necessarily good. Think of it this way – most people remember the exact time and day when they’ve lost someone dear to them. That is because they mourn their passing.
Why do most people remember when they’ve stopped smoking? Something in smokers always mourns the loss of their favorite pastime. It’s understandable but it also has to be snuffed out. As a rule of thumb, celebrate milestones for a year after quitting and after that forget about them. Start looking at yourself as a non-smoker, a former addict but still, a completely new and reformed person.
Manage Nicotine Cravings
Nicotine cravings occur early in the cessation period. They are the most prevalent and the most difficult withdrawal symptom.
Smokers crave nicotine because they are addicted to it. It changes your brain chemistry and affects every system in your body.
- Release of endorphins
- Dopamine surges
- Increased blood sugar rates
- Faster circulation and heart rate
They last for up to three months for heavy smokers but are the worst for the first three days.
During that period it’s important to remember that nicotine cravings are short-lived and can occur anytime. They can be triggered by things such as coffee, a meal, driving, or walking in your garden.
In order to minimize the number of nicotine craving episodes:
- Avoid your smoking triggers for the first week
- Stay busy and distracted
- Keep your eyes on the goal – think about your health and the health of those around you
- Ask for help – don’t be an island and reach out to people if you feel you might slip up
Further reading: Manage your nicotine cravings
Success Rates and Success Stories
While it’s true that pure statistics of smoking cessation can be demoralizing, don’t obsess about them. You’re in this to succeed and not to fail. The internet is full of inspiring stories – whenever you get the feeling that you’re in over your head or that you absolutely need to smoke, find one of those stories.
People in much worse situations than you have been able to make their dream of quitting come true. Some faltered, some cheated, some tried dozens of times before succeeding – what links them all is that they’ve never stopped trying and that, eventually, they’ve succeeded. On the other hand, even stories depicting how someone failed can serve as an inspiration. Sponge up as much of other people’s experience as you can and learn from their mistakes.
Further reading: Quit smoking success rates and success stories
Maintain Success after Quitting
After you make it through the first few days, things get a lot easier. Of course, nicotine cravings will still happen but most of other physical symptoms will subside. However, most smokers who quit relapse within six months without ever reaching that important milestone so it is important to take a long view of things.
In order to stay quit you will have to:
- Learn how to deal with stress – in the past, smoking a cigarette in stressful situations was a given. As a non-smoker you will have to accept that stress is a part of life and teach yourself how to manage it without smoking.
- Reward yourself – during the first year of quitting give yourself a pat on the back, regularly. Celebrate milestones such as 3 days without cigarettes, 1 week without cigarettes, of 6 months without cigarettes and treat yourself to something nice. Those rewards do not have to always be monetary in nature – taking a day off or sleeping in on a Saturday can be just as rewarding.
- Manage your weight – getting a few pounds during the process of cessation is normal and expected. However, most smokers use that as an excuse to go back to smoking. Instead of doing that just accept those few pounds as a reality. You can easily loose them after through smart dieting and regular exercise.
- Tips for limiting weight gain:
- Watch what you eat
- Buy products which do not contain sugar whenever you can
- Substitute sweets with celery sticks or carrots
- Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
- Exercise regularly
- Tips for limiting weight gain:
- Avoid risky situations – at least until such time when you can be certain you can deal with them. People react to different triggers but it might be smart to steer clear of celebrations, parties, bars, and nightclubs for at least few weeks. This doesn’t mean that your social life is gone for good. Ease into it one step at a time – go out and have one drink to prove to yourself that you can have fun without smoking. It’s going to be difficult at first as alcohol is a major trigger for most people but it will get easier with time.
Further reading: How to maintain success when quitting
In the end, remember that, while you might fail once or twice, eventually you are going to get there. Each failure will make you smarter and better prepared for next time. Most smokers don’t manage to quit on their first try and that’s fine. Those who count are those who eventually make it. Make sure you’re one of them.