Why Do Smokers Relapse?

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why some smokers who have been able to rid themselves of tobacco for some time, eventually succumb to temptation and relapse. What drives people to throw away months, sometimes even years of hard work and light a cigarette once again?

First, it’s important to understand what truly constitutes a relapse.

The term relapse is thrown about with relative ease because it can be used to describe someone’s return to habit even after being ‘off cigarettes’ for no more than two days. While it’s technically correct to call that a relapse it’s important to differentiate between that one and the one that happens to an ex-smoker who has been cigarette-free for more than a year.

In the first instance, the person has barely quit smoking. They are still physically addicted to cigarettes and after two days cravings are getting pretty bad. This can be better classified as ‘falling off the horse’ than actually relapsing.

There are two reasons why smokers relapse:

  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Triggers and attitude

Most relapses that occur within first three months after quitting smoking can be traced back to withdrawal symptoms. Intense nicotine cravings, physical withdrawal symptoms, the overwhelming feeling that everything would be just a little bit better if you smoked a cigarette; all of these contribute to people giving up and smoking a cigarette again. But withdrawal symptoms and cravings can be managed either with nicotine replacement therapy and medication or with steely determination and eventually, they go away. But what happens further down the road?

Why Smokers Relapse Years After Quitting Smoking?

True relapse happens months and sometimes even years after quitting smoking. That means years after people have been completely free of withdrawal symptoms and physical cravings. It can be triggered by a great many things but usually, the root cause of it can be linked back to people’s attitudes and habits.

Some ex-smokers claim that they still miss smoking tobacco even years after smoking their last cigarette. They stay quit for long periods of time by default – but theirs is a delicate cessation period.

How successful someone is going to be at quitting smoking actually depends on what sort of an attitude they build toward cigarettes. In the example above, it’s obvious that those smokers don’t fully appreciate how bad smoking is for their health and the health of those around them. Any little trigger can send them running back to their old habit in a blink of an eye.

In the end, ex-smokers have to face up to the fact that they are former nicotine-addicts and that their struggle to resist cigarettes is probably going to last the same number of years as they’ve smoked. Smoking is habit-forming and everything smokers do in everyday situations is somehow linked to cigarettes. Constantly reminding yourself that it’s an ongoing process will help you deal with everyday temptations. People who’ve smoked for years have to reprogram their brain and learn how to live without cigarettes. That means going through same situations they went through as smokers and learning how to cope with them as non-smokers.

Triggers vary and some will crop up even years after you’ve quit. Consider this: you quit smoking during winter. In the summer you take a refreshing dip in the sea, come out of the water and suddenly get an overwhelming urge to light a cigarette. This is probably because that’s something you’ve done for years before you decided to quit – you would come out of the water, dry yourself and then you’d light a cigarette.

Or maybe smoking helps you to deal with stressful and sad situations. Some people are emotional smokers – they smoke the most when they are sad. So you might have quit years ago and someone close to you suddenly dies. It’s understandable that you’ll get an urge to smoke. After all, that is what you would do in the past – you would mourn and you would smoke.

Triggers can surprise you years after you’ve put cigarettes behind you and it’s important to know that. It’s important to know how to identify them and how to deal with them – how to correct your behavior and avoid knee-jerk reactions that can cause you to relapse.

Learn more: How to avoid smoking relapse?