How to Stay Smoke-Free After You Quit

Medically Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo, MD on November 27, 2022
5 min read

Whether you went cold turkey or spent decades debating the decision, you did it: You quit smoking. That’s no easy feat. Smoking is highly addictive. Even if you set your mind to kicking the habit, your body and brain might have kept you coming back to the pack.

The addiction is due to nicotine, a drug that’s naturally found in tobacco. Even though cigarettes are legal in the United States, more people are addicted to nicotine than to any other drug. And some research even suggests that it’s just as habit-forming as alcohol, cocaine, and heroin.

But now that you’re smoke-free, how do you stay that way? You’ve probably heard how hard quitting for good can be, and how many people pick up the habit again. That’s usually because cigarettes were their only coping mechanism for stress or because they can’t tolerate the symptoms of withdrawal.

Because nicotine is so powerfully addictive, your body gets used to having it. The longer you smoke, the more nicotine it takes just to make you feel normal. Without that amount of the drug in your system, you start to experience the unpleasant feelings and cravings commonly called withdrawal.

Nicotine withdrawals are both mental and physical. It’s important to remember that while the symptoms can be uncomfortable, they’re not life-threatening, and you will get through them. Being prepared for them will help you deal with the feelings and avoid a relapse.

The mental part of withdrawal can be a lot harder for many smokers to deal with. That’s because you may associate cigarettes with a lot of your everyday activities like eating, drinking coffee, or even getting out of bed.

It can take time and effort to break these habits and create new patterns and routines so you no longer have the urge to smoke while going through your day-to-day tasks.

One big reason smokers light up again after they’ve quit is that they convince themselves smoking either isn’t that bad, or they can have just one cigarette without slipping back into addiction.

But this kind of thinking can undo all your effort to quit. You might find yourself having thoughts like, “It’s no big deal if I just have one,” or “I should be allowed to enjoy my life.” But giving in to these thoughts can lead you right back to your addiction, so it’s important to stay aware of your thought patterns.

Write down these thoughts as they come up. It might help you deal with them.

Another reason people start smoking again is because they gain weight after quitting. The desire to keep weight down can be strong enough to keep people from quitting.

But keep in mind that the average weight gain after quitting is usually less than 10 pounds. Focus on staying healthy and active instead of stressing about the scale. It’ll help you get through.

Focus on the advantages of becoming a nonsmoker. Here are some of the biggest things you'll enjoy less of:

You can remain a nonsmoker. I just takes diligence and hard work on your part.

  • Develop new habits and routines. If you associate cigarettes with your morning coffee, switch to water or juice. If you used to light up during your lunch hour, make different lunch plans with coworkers.
  • Know your triggers. If certain people, places, or situations tempt you to light up, avoid them for now. You might be able to go back to them later without the urge to smoke. But for now, don’t take the risk.
  • Keep your mouth busy. Try chewing gum, crunchy vegetables, or even gnawing on a straw to have the feeling of something in your mouth.
  • Get moving. Not only will exercise help you manage your weight, but it will give you something to do to fill your time. If the gym isn’t for you, just start walking. It can help you burn calories and tone your muscles, and it will give you an easy activity to do any time you’re stressed or craving a smoke.
  • Manage your stress. Stress can send you right back to your smoking habit. Find ways to cope with stressful situations. Exercise is one good outlet for stress, but other activities like meditation, listening to music, writing, or volunteering may help too.
  • Keep track of your food choices. Once cigarettes are off the table, you may be tempted to replace the habit with unhealthy snacks. Write down a list of foods that can help you get a general sense of your eating patterns so you become aware of any habits that could use improvement (like mindless snacking).
  • Breathe it in. One reason smoking feels calming is because it forces you to inhale deeply. Try inhaling the clean, fresh air deeply when a craving hits.
  • Occupy your time. Find tasks that keep your hands busy and keep your mind engaged. Cleaning, gardening, and needlework can be helpful hobbies.
  • Treat yourself. By quitting, you’re not just significantly improving your health, you’re also saving money. Take the money that would have gone to buy cigarettes and use it for a healthy treat, like a nice meal, a yoga class, or a massage. You can also put the money away in a savings account. If you’re spending $5.50 per pack, quitting your pack-a-day habit will save you more than $2,000 a year. Take that and splurge on something bigger, like a vacation!

Don’t panic if you make a mistake. A one-time slip does not mean you’ve had a full relapse. If you take the time to look at the circumstances that led to your slip, you can figure out why you made the choice and recommit to staying smoke-free in the future.

Relapses happen, too, but they’re not the end of the world. Most people have to tried to quit several times before they permanently kick the habit. Again, analyzing what led to the relapse and how you can learn from it will help you get back on your feet and quit once and for all.