What to do if you relapse after quitting smoking

Many people who quit smoking relapse at some point. Don’t be put off trying again. The key is to learn from what went wrong so you’re more likely to succeed next time.

If you're tempted to start smoking again, call the free NHS Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1014 to get support from a trained adviser

When you quit smoking, it’s important to be positive and really believe that you’ll be successful. You shouldn’t expect to start smoking again.

But some people who try to quit will return to smoking the way they did before, usually in the first few months.

If you do relapse, don't worry, it can take a few tries to quit smoking for good. That's not to say you shouldn't take relapse seriously – but don't be too hard on yourself either.

The more times you try to quit, the better your chances of success. So, look on a relapse as ‘practice’ for stopping smoking.

Preventing stop smoking relapse

Why is it that some smokers who quit fall off the wagon?

The main reason is giving in to cravings. These are powerful urges to smoke, often triggered by stress, seeing other people smoking, getting drunk or emotional events such as arguments.

The best way to withstand cravings is a combination of stop smoking medicines and behavioural changes.

It’s also important to stay away from people who smoke. Nearly three quarters of all quitters who relapse do so in the presence of people who are smoking – usually after having asked one of them for a cigarette!

Get practical advice on how to relieve cravings.

Help for stop smoking relapse

The risk of relapse is highest in the first few weeks after quitting. However, some people can relapse several months, or even years, after stopping smoking

Avoiding a relapse is best, but if you do yield to temptation, don’t despair – it can take several tries to quit smoking for good. You've tried before and this experience can help you now.

If you’ve had a cigarette or two:

  • Don’t give up on quitting. You can still avoid a full relapse. Throw the rest of the packet away and continue your quit attempt.
  • Remind yourself why you want to quit. Then take control again.
  • Get support. Call the free NHS Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1014 to speak to a trained adviser. Lines are open Monday-Friday 9am-8pm and Saturday & Sunday 11am-5pm.
  • Make it hard to smoke. Avoid places where you can easily ask someone for a cigarette. And don’t buy a packet.
  • Stay strong. If you’re tempted to smoke again, force yourself to wait two hours. Then decide if you really need the cigarette.
  • Keep taking any prescribed stop smoking medicine or using NRT unless you go back to regular smoking. It can help you get back on track.

If you’ve relapsed and are back to regular smoking:

  • Don’t become despondent. Set a new quit date, maybe in a week or so.
  • Learn from your mistakes. What caused you to slip up? Think of ways you could have avoided smoking. Work on your coping skills so you’re prepared next time you’re in the same situation.
  • Talk to your doctor or NHS Stop Smoking Adviser if you need more help to cope with cravings in your next quit attempt. Read how an NHS Stop Smoking Adviser can help you quit.
  • Stay positive. You’re learning how to quit cigarettes. Remember, you’ll be stronger next time because you’ll know what to look out for.

Use our stop smoking tool to get daily tips for success.

Common quit smoking questions

Read the answers to common questions about stopping smoking, including: 

Page last reviewed: 07/03/2014

Next review due: 07/03/2016

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