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A relapse is a return to regular smoking. Remember, most smokers quit a number of times before they quit for good - relapse is common.

It’s natural to feel disappointed when you replase, but remember: every day you were smokefree made your body healthier and helped to break your habit and weaken your addiction.

Quitting is a process. Rather than it being like sporting match – where you go in, fight it out, and either win or lose – quitting successfully is more like learning to drive a manual car. You’ll drive off eventually but it takes time and practice to learn how to do it smoothly and properly, and to perform when the pressure is on.

When to try quitting again?

The best time to consider quitting again, whether you’ve relapsed early on or later, is when you feel like you’re ready. But don’t wait until the perfect time – it never comes.

If you feel you want to jump back in now – go for it! Consider some of the information below:

  • mark a time in your calendar (or phone) to revisit quitting.
  • we suggest making it only a month or two away.
  • book a Quitline call (now/one week/one month/two months/four months). It’s a great way to get started again.

Building motivation

This is the time to reflect on your own personal reasons for quitting. Write them down as a reminder.

Book a Quitline call

The Quitline is a great support at this time. Quitline counsellors know how difficult it is to quit, and that a relapse is a normal part of the quitting journey. They’re trained to listen and allow you to talk through what happened to maximise your chances when you’re ready to quit next time. Quitline can set up future call backs to help you get back on track in the coming weeks. Click here if you’d like to request a Quitline callback now, or down the track.

Early relapse

An early relapse (in the first few days or weeks after your quit day) is a common part of the quitting journey.

To maximise your chance of quitting next time, there are a few things to consider:

Research shows that the most effective way to quit is:

Counselling / behavioural support + nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or quitting medication

Coaching means getting advice and support. Quitline is the best coach. QuitCoach is another proven method of support. Your coach might be a website, a self-help book, a quit course leader, or a doctor or other health professional with special training to help people quit. A coach can give you motivation, tips, support and confidence. To get the best out of your coach see effective coaching.

Nicotine replacement therapy and quitting medication can significantly increase your chance of quitting.

If you did use them, the following questions may be relevant:

  • Did you use the NRT or quitting medication as directed and for long enough?
  • Did you use the right dose?
  • Did you experience side effects?
    • Your doctor may suggest a reduced dose or anti-nausea tablet

See Choosing the best way to quit for more information.

Later relapse

Many smokers are taken by surprise when they relapse further down the track, when everything seems to be going well.

You’ve chosen a method that works for you and you’re past the daily cravings stage, but you’ve found yourself smoking again. This is not uncommon. It means you’re likely to be very close to being quit for good. Book a Quitline call for extra support this time round. Think through the circumstances around the relapse and what you can learn from it.

Common relapse scenarios:

  • Strong negative emotion or major stress
    • Once you’ve been quit for a while you begin to master day-to-day life stress but major stress – like a death in the family or a relationship break-up – can surprise you down the track and bring on thoughts of smoking. Remind yourself of the benefits of staying quit and the ways you’ve managed stress in the short term (e.g. deep breathing, muscle relaxation).
    • Remember, having “just one” cigarette doesn’t work because nicotine is very addictive and there is no safe level of smoking. It’s good to remind yourself that these sudden urges to smoke are rare once you have been quit for a while.
  • Old smoking situations
    • Returning to past situations where you used to smoke, like an old workplace or an area where you lived can cause memories of being a smoker and an urge to smoke. Once you’ve gotten through the withdrawal, you are no longer addicted to nicotine. Expect these cravings to happen and see them for what they are – just memories of smoking – and let them pass. See managing routines.
  • Cravings as memories
    • With time, urges to smoke slowly fade to something that is more like a memory or fleeting thought which is much more manageable. There is the possibility you will feel an urge to smoke in times of crisis but otherwise it’s a positive step to begin to label cravings as memories – a sign of regaining control.
  • Curiosity
    • Sometimes people smoke again a long time into their quitting just because they’re curious. They may wonder what one cigarette might be like. Once you’ve been a smoker, one cigarette out of the blue has a very powerful effect on the brain which can awaken an old desire to smoke regularly. It’s best to be aware of these thoughts and treat them the same way you dealt with an urge to smoke in the first few days of quitting – distract yourself and move on. You’re a nonsmoker now.

Book a Quitline call to discuss strategies to help you get back on track.