What Happens If You Relapse Into Smoking?

Medically Reviewed on 7/30/2021
smoking relapse
What happens when you quit smoking and start again? Learn about what causes a smoking relapse and how to cope with it

Quitting smoking is one of the most difficult things you will ever do. Most people make multiple attempts to kick the habit, and for some it may take 7-9 tries before they successfully stop smoking.

Smoking relapses can be distressing. You may feel overwhelmed, depressed, hopeless, and jittery, angry at yourself because you know if you have to go through everything all over again. But it’s important to remember that a relapse is a normal part of the quitting process.

What causes a smoking relapse?

A smoking relapse occurs when someone who has quit smoking eventually gives into temptation and starts to smoke again. But why do smokers reach for their cigarettes again, weeks or even years after they have put in all that hard work? Reasons typically boil down to:

  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Triggers such as stress or lack of sleep

How to cope with a smoking relapse

If you slip up and have a cigarette or two, don't despair. Follow these tips for coping with a smoking relapse:

  • Don't give up. One setback doesn’t mean you will be in full-blown relapse.
  • Remind yourself why you want to quit, and take control again.
  • Avoid places where you can easily ask someone for a cigarette. Don't buy a packet.
  • If you're tempted to smoke again, force yourself to wait 2 hours. Then reassess whether you really need the cigarette.
  • Use nicotine replacement therapy or any medications that can help you get back on track.
  • Set a new quit date, maybe in a week or so.
  • Think of ways you could have avoided smoking. Work on how to be prepared next time you're in the same situation.
  • Talk to your doctor or a helpline adviser if you need help coping with cravings.

While it can be frustrating to relapse, quit, and then relapse again, each time you quit, you learn different skills. Build on what you have learned and analyze why you relapsed. Don’t view this practice run as a failure, but consider it a stepping stone to eventually quitting for good. Remember, you'll be stronger next time because you'll know what to look out for.

What helps with nicotine withdrawals?

Since nicotine withdrawal is one of the main reasons for smoking relapse, it’s important to know what steps to take to manage symptoms: 

  • Dress to stay cool and drink plenty of water.
  • Try deep breathing or meditation to relieve tension.
  • Avoid spicy foods.
  • Treat yourself to soothing activities before bedtime—a warm bath, a massage, and total quiet.
  • Stay busy, especially during times when you used to smoke. Distract yourself with a small snack or absorbing task to get over the cravings.
  • Be prepared to be moody, emotional, anxious, and confused. Talk to someone about how you feel. Go for a walk to exercise to take the edge off. 
  • If you have a planned support system, rely on them for help when you need it.
  • Do not let weight gain caused by smoking cessation frustrate you. People who are concerned about gaining weight are more likely to relapse after quitting.

What are the benefits of quitting smoking?

Reminding yourself of the benefits of quitting smoking can help you stick to your guns. When you quit smoking, your body begins healing immediately. According to the National Cancer Institute, smokers who quit before age 40 reduce their risk of dying prematurely from a smoking-related disease by about 90%. 

Quitting makes a difference even if you've already been diagnosed with lung cancer. If you're diagnosed with early-stage cancer, your risk of complications is much higher if you're still smoking. So the sooner you quit, the greater the health benefit.

Can diet help with smoking cessation?

Eating a healthy diet can help you stay on track and healthy:

  • Drinking water regularly can help the body flush out toxins.
  • Protein keeps the appetite in check and is good for brain health.
  • Nuts and seeds supply the body with good fats.
  • Foods such as avocado, walnuts, olives, sardines and cod help manage proinflammatory chemicals that the body requires to fight cellular aging brought on by cigarettes.
  • Complex carbohydrates such as oats and whole grains help control hunger.
  • Vegetables, fruits, lean cuts of meat and poultry, etc. are also good sources of essential vitamins and minerals and can help boost overall health.


How to Quit Smoking: 13 Tips to End Addiction See Slideshow

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Medically Reviewed on 7/30/2021
Predictors of smoking relapse by duration of abstinence: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4517970/

Why Do Smokers Relapse? https://tobaccofreelife.org/staying-quit/quit-smoking-relapse/

Stay Smoke-Free and Avoid a Smoking Relapse: https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/1769/keep-it-up-staying-smoke-free