Does Smoking One Cigarette Mean I've Relapsed?

Cropped Image Of Person Smoking Cigarette
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A reader asks:

I quit smoking three months ago. I've been feeling depressed, and smoking was tempting me more and more. I slipped and smoked, but only had one cigarette. In fact, I didn't smoke the whole thing--just a few puffs. Do I have to start over from day one again now, or should I just go on as though it didn't happen?


Smoking one cigarette does not erase all of the smoke-free time you’ve accumulated.

For some people, starting over from scratch following a slip is so demoralizing that they run the risk of giving up entirely, returning to smoking on a full-time basis.

How you choose to move forward following a smoking slip is up to you. Do what you are comfortable with, but make sure you take some time to analyze and correct the faulty thinking that allowed you to pick up that cigarette and smoke it in the first place.

The Real Danger of Smoking a Few Puffs

Physically, you have reintroduced nicotine into your body.  Smokers are nicotine addicts.  We are not stronger than the drug.  Test that after you've quit, and you run the risk of a return to full time smoking faster than you might think.  The only sure way to keep the inner addict in control is to keep nicotine out.

Psychologically, that single cigarette signals a change in mindset that needs to be corrected.  Cigarettes don't light themselves and jump into our mouths.

Almost always, the shift towards smoking starts well ahead of the actual event. Figure out what triggered it and then come up with a plan to avoid the same pitfall in the future.

Recovery from nicotine comes gradually.  There are going to be triggers that bring on strong urges to smoke as you move through smoking cessation, but it won't always be that way.

Each time you face down one of those urges, your brain logs it and breaks that connection to smoking bit-by-bit.  

In time, triggers to smoke will be rare to nonexistent.  For now though, use that plan you devised to make your way through them without lighting up.

Remember Your Reasons for Quitting

Dive back into why you quit smoking in the first place. Think about how you felt on your quit day.

  • Were you sick and tired of smoking?
  • Were you living in fear of contracting a smoking-related illness?
  • Did you hate that you couldn't stop smoking?
  • Did you have a chronic cough or shortness of breath?
  • Were you embarrassed by your smoking habit?
  • Did you spend a lot of time wishing you could quit smoking, once and for all?

None of the reasons you had when you quit smoking are any less true today.

It's easy to lose sight of the importance of what you're doing when you get a few months of smoke-free time under your belt. Maybe that chronic cough is gone, or you've convinced yourself that quitting isn't that hard and you can smoke for a day and get right back to your quit.

Don't believe it! You're having junkie thoughts.  Nicotine addiction doesn't let go easily and if you light up, you'll quickly be reminded of just how true that is.

Revisit your list of reasons, start a list now if you don't have one. Read everything you can find about the effects of smoking, even if you've read it all before. A refresher will help build your resolve back up.

Relapse is a Slippery Slope

If you've had a smoking slip, it's important for you to do the work to get your head back in the game. It may not be easy, but it's worth it.

Be patient and give yourself the time you need to allow for healing, both physically and emotionally. The day will come when smoking is a distant, detached memory. When it does, you'll be thankful you stuck with your quit program through thick and thin.

More reading:  5 Steps That Lead to a Smoking Relapse

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