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Tobacco cessation: relapse prevention

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A few months ago, you started something that you are extremely proud of : you quit smoking. However, recently it seems that the temptation to smoke again has increased and you feel more at risk. How can you avoid a relapse?

Cessation tabagique : la prévention des rechutes

Success right from the start: the big challenge

Well, you did it! After several attempts and many pitfalls, you have finally succeeded. You can already feel the numerous benefits that kicking the smoking habit has introduced into your life. Above all, you want to stick to your decision to quit. However, you sometimes feel that you are two steps from lighting up another cigarette. What can you do to stop this from happening? 

It is estimated that a smoker must make an average of five to seven attempts before finally quitting smoking for good. So it is important to always keep in mind that for most people it is impossible to smoke a single cigarette, or even sometimes a single puff, without falling back into the habit of smoking. Knowing this, you should keep your focus on a single goal: “For me, cigarettes are a thing of the past, whatever the cost.”

Long-term success

It has been proven that at the end of one year, only 5% of those who quit smoking without medical assistance and professional healthcare support were still non-smokers. As well, several studies have demonstrated that the use of anti-smoking aids considerably increases the chance for long-term success.  

Even when we have successfully stopped smoking, it may be advantageous to seek the support and advice of a healthcare professional. Your pharmacist can provide this support, so don’t hesitate to ask for advice. As well, you can take advantage of the free services of a Quit Smoking Centre (CAT). Contact your local CLSC or visit the Internet site www.jarrete.qc.ca for the coordinates of the Centre closest to you.

High-risk periods

Although a slip-up may occur at any time, some circumstances have been identified as times when your vulnerability will be at its maximum. Here are three examples of these high-risk situations:

  • Heightened emotion or great stress: A bereavement, loss of employment, relationship breakup, dispute or bad news are many examples of situations that can cause high stress in a person. Remember how, when you smoked, a cigarette was a great comfort during those times. This is because smoking triggers the release of a substance in the brain: dopamine. This is the source of a feeling of calmness, relaxation and comfort associated with cigarettes. Your brain will long remember how good it was to smoke when faced with a stressful or painful situation. No wonder that at these times it insists on sending out strong signals for you to smoke again in order to rediscover the effects of dopamine. If this happens to you, don’t let it fool you! Prepare in advance with numerous strategies that will help you find peace and calm other than by smoking: call a close friend, go for a massage, treat yourself to a good meal in a restaurant, etc.  
  • A joyous or happy event: An outing with friends, a fishing trip, a vacation down South, an evening around the campfire, etc. Any of these happy moments can sometimes trigger a relapse for some ex-smokers. Given that cigarettes are associated with pleasure (again, another effect of that singular dopamine!), it is normal for your brain to always associate these moments of pleasure or happiness with cigarettes. It will then send you an often intense message like: “Wouldn’t just one cigarette be great?” The answer to that temptation should be a definite ‘no!’ If your desire to smoke occurs during one of these situations, be aware of what is happening inside yourself. And turn your thoughts and interests to the positive lifestyle outlook you are living... without cigarettes.  
  • “Identifiable” elements: Certain places or objects, some songs, odours, habits, and even some people seem to bear the label “cigarette.” Every time you are in the presence of these elements, your desire to smoke returns at a gallop. This is completely normal, and is what is known as a “conditioned reflex.” Do you know the story of Pavlov’s dog? At the end of the 19th century a scientist named Pavlov demonstrated this concept by showing how, when a dog’s mealtime dish is accompanied by a particular sound stimulus, this sound can trigger salivation in the animal without the presence of the dog’s food dish. This means that, once again, your brain is having fun playing tricks on you. So don’t fall into the trap. You can try to avoid these identifiable elements, or prepare yourself in advance with a strategy to overcome them.  

A few tips to prevent a relapse

Preventing a relapse is not just a question of willingness, but also of effective strategies. Here are several strategies to help you say no to cigarettes when the desire to smoke pops up:

  • Think about the reasons that convinced you to stop smoking and of the benefits you have felt for doing so. Remind yourself what your life was like when you were a slave to cigarettes.
  • Think about all the progress you have made and all the stages you must repeat if you were to start the process of quitting smoking all over again.
  • When someone offers you a cigarette, ask them why they are doing this. People who offer ex-smokers a cigarette often don’t realize the impact of the consequences of such a gesture.
  • Ask your friends and family who smoke to respect your decision to quit, and to never offer you a cigarette. Formulate a response in the event this ever occurs.
  • Remember that you do not need to smoke. No human being needs to smoke. The urges to smoke that your brain sends you are only illusions, messages that tell you it is time to rest, relax or treat yourself. Deal with these messages other than by smoking.

Making positive changes to your life can also help you avoid relapses. Here are a few tips to help you:

  • Discover new activities or passions: sports, dance, yoga, gardening, cinema, hobbies, etc. The more your mind is occupied by healthy activities that bring you comfort and pleasure, the further it will separate itself from the obsession to smoke.
  • Think about seeking personal counselling in psychotherapy. Learning more about your personal issues will help you to better understand the reasons that pushed you to smoke and find the means to fight dependence. 

Quitting cigarettes is one thing, but remaining a non-smoker is another issue. So don’t rest on your laurels, and equip yourself as best you can to face the temptations that will undoubtedly appear on your life path. Every person is capable of quitting cigarettes for life, and you are no exception. Have confidence in yourself and you will find, within yourself and around you, the necessary resources to help you stick to your goal!

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