If you’ve quit smoking, you should be proud. You’ve taken huge steps to improve your health and lower your cancer risk. The benefits of quitting smoking start right away and continue for decades. Within just 20 minutes of quitting your blood pressure drops. And after 10 years you’re 50% less likely to die of lung cancer.
But how do you make sure you stay tobacco-free and avoid drifting into old behaviors and addictions? We talked to Maher Karam-Hage, professor of Behavioral Science and Tobacco Treatment Program director at MD Anderson Cancer Center, for tips on how to avoid smoking setbacks.
You are going to face challenges – and possibly failures – on your journey to living smoke-free. Taking advantage of support programs can help you avoid slips and recover from them faster.
“The best way to quit is with counseling and medication,” Karam-Hage says.
Counselors and psychologists can help you determine what triggers your cravings and how to resist them. Medications would help you mitigate cravings, withdrawal and other symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
You can get free phone and online support to help you quit.
- Call 800-784-8669 (800-QUIT NOW)
- Text Quit to 47848
- Visit www.smokefree.gov
Curb cravings with nicotine replacement
Research shows you’ll be less likely slip up and reach for a cigarette if you ease your nicotine cravings with medications.
Several products, including pills, inhalers and gum, replace the nicotine you crave in decreasing amounts, which can help you resist temptation.
These products may be prescription or over-the-counter. Talk to your medical care provider about what product may be best for you.
Karam-Hage recommends using medications for up to six months or longer if needed.
“Many people think of it as an antibiotic that you just take for a little while, then stop it in few days once you feel better,” he says. “But these medications need to be taken for several months for the brain to get adapted again to be without nicotine and minimize risk of relapse. There’s no shame in taking them as long as you need them.”
Karam-Hage says your doctor or counselor can help you determine how long you need to use medications and nicotine products.
Plan for challenges
Support and medication will go a long way in reducing your chances of a smoking relapse. Karam-Hage also recommends using the phrase “ACE” to help you stay strong in your commitment to quitting.
- Avoid - Avoid smokers who might tempt you (directly or indirectly) to smoke. Also avoid situations or locations where you will be tempted to smoke. If you used to smoke with a friend, try suggesting a different activity to do now, like exercising or eating at a smoke-free restaurant. Avoid places where you used to smoke as well. If you used to drive to work while smoking a cigarette, try a different route. Breaking the habit can help keep temptation out of mind.
- Cope - If you have to be in a situation in which you’re likely to smoke, like a stressful day at work, be prepared to deal with it. Write the reason why you quit smoking on a card to keep with you. When you want to get a cigarette, reach for your card instead.
- Escape -It’s OK to leave a situation that makes you want to start smoking again.
What to do if you slip
If you do slip and have a cigarette, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, get back on track as soon as you can. The longer it goes the harder it may be to quit again.
“Avoid negative self-talk,” Karam-Hage says. “It doesn’t help anything, and it often leads to more smoking.”
Instead, let it go, get help and focus on quitting again.