What to do if you relapse after quitting

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 1044 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. A slip-up shouldn't mean that you'll return to smoking the way you did before.

It's an opportunity to learn a bit about yourself and what will help you to be more successful in the future.

If you do relapse, don't worry. It can take a few tries to quit smoking for good.

It can be helpful to commit yourself to the "not a single drag" rule. Promise to yourself and others that you'll not even have a single drag on a cigarette.

By sticking to this simple rule you can guarantee that you won't start smoking again.

Preventing slip-ups

Why is it that some people who have stopped return to smoking? 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 like 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. Most people who relapse do so because they're with other people who are smoking, and this is usually after having asked one of them for a cigarette.

Get practical advice on how to relieve cravings

Help to prevent relapse

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

Avoiding a relapse is best, but if you do give in to temptation, don't despair.

Really think about what went wrong and plan how you'll deal with a similar situation in the future.

If you have had a cigarette or two:

  • Don't give up – you can still avoid a full relapse. Commit to the "not a single drag" rule and get back on with it.
  • 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 to Friday, 9am to 8pm and Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 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 2 hours. Then decide if you really need the cigarette.
  • Keep taking any prescribed stop smoking medicine or using nicotine replacement therapy, unless you go back to regular smoking. It can help you get back on track.

If you have 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 local stop smoking service if you need more help to cope with cravings in your next quit attempt.
  • Stay positive – making mistakes or slipping up can be a useful experience if you're prepared to learn from it. Remember, you'll be stronger next time because you'll know what to look out for.

More information

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

Page last reviewed: 25/10/2018
Next review due: 25/10/2021