Giving up smoking

Reflecting on relapses

While some people can stop smoking once and for all at the first attempt, many smokers relapse. Sometimes they relapse several times before feeling confident that they have stopped for good. At one point Haseen had found it difficult to imagine himself not smoking, and Mariam said each attempt at quitting was harder because the habit of smoking was more familiar.

Ex-smokers have to contend with strong associations and old habits which meant they were prompted to smoke in particular company or circumstances. Alcohol was often mentioned as a particular prompt to start smoking again. There was always a danger of giving in to just ‘one cigarette’ on a night out, or on a casual basis, which could sometimes lead to their smoking as much as or more than before they quit.
A crisis or stressful period could also trip people up and prompt them to reach for a cigarette. Crises that people linked to starting smoking again included going through relationship break up or divorce or the death of someone close.

Sue had given up for a number of years before she enrolled at university as a mature student and started again because of the stress.
When people looked back at the times they had tried to quit, and ended up smoking again, sometimes they realised that they hadn’t really been committed to giving up at the time, or that they still really enjoyed smoking. Some talked about not being in the right “head space” or still enjoying smoking and not really wanting to stop but doing so for someone else. People often felt that ‘false starts’ happened because they had a vague feeling they should stop smoking, and hadn’t really wanted to or planned how they were going to give up.
One of the strongest messages that people who had given up smoking wanted to pass on to others was that, no matter how many times you’ve tried, it is always worth trying again. Some people had friends and colleagues who were still smoking and who they suspected wanted to sabotage their quit attempt. Mariam remarked that it was human nature to subconsciously try to keep other people ‘in the trap’ with you.
Falling off the wagon can be discouraging, but as Caroline points out, those who can work out why they smoke and why they want to give up may even find it easier to quit than they expect.
(Also see ‘Cannabis, alcohol and coffee’, ‘Life events and their effect on people’s motivation to stop smoking', ‘The role of others in the decision to quit’ and ‘Message to other smokers’).

Last reviewed August 2018.


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