Common Rationalizations for Smoking

How to Overcome Junkie Thinking

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Thoughts of smoking can creep in and throw you off balance if you're not prepared for them. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons people break down and light up that first cigarette is due to junkie thinking.

How to defeat those tempting thoughts of smoking just one cigarette?

Understanding how your mind tries to negotiate while withdrawing from nicotine addiction is an important first step. Most, if not all of the newly quit experience the urge to give in and smoke, especially during the first few months.

Nicotine addiction doesn't let go without throwing some mental chatter and bargaining our way.

About Smoking Cessation support forum member Gaylene describes it this way:

'A good way to look at nicotine addiction is as a demon that is dying. Smoking urges are the demon struggling to get you to feed him. The longer he goes without being fed, the dimmer his voice gets. He will eventually starve to death. As he gets weaker, the strength he is losing is being transferred to you. You are gaining strength each time you are successful at not smoking.'

Think of that mental chatter about smoking as a sign of the healing taking place within you, because that is what it is. Thoughts of smoking come with the territory early on in cessation, but will fade away with time.

Below are some of the most common rationalizations smokers fall prey to. Chances are you'll identify with some of them. Stay ahead of the game by learning how to recognize faulty thinking and stop it in its tracks.

Common Rationalizations for Smoking

Rationalization: I'm under a lot of stress, and smoking relaxes me.

Response: Your body is used to nicotine, so you naturally feel more relaxed when you give your body a substance upon which it has grown dependent.  But that is addiction, not true stress relief.   While early cessation can cause stress, most ex-smokers feel much less nervous just a few weeks after quitting.

Rationalization: Smoking makes me more effective in my work.

Response: Trouble concentrating can be a short-term symptom of quitting, but smoking actually deprives your brain of oxygen. You'll likely think more clearly once the smokescreen of nicotine addiction is gone.

Rationalization: I've already cut down to a safe level.

Response: Cutting down is a good first step, but it's important to know that there is no such thing as a safe level of smoking. Cigarettes are literally brimming with toxins you'd never go near, let alone inhale into your lungs if you were not addicted to nicotine. To date, researchers have uncovered upwards of 7000 chemical compounds in cigarette smoke, including 250 poisonous chemicals and 70 that cause cancer.

Rationalization: It's too hard to stop smoking. I don't have the willpower.

Response: Quitting tobacco is hard, but with education and support, you can make it a lasting reality in your life. Millions of Americans quit smoking every year. If you've had failed quit attempts in your past, remember that most people have to try more than once. Keep at it - the freedom you're after is outstanding and worth every bit of work it takes to achieve.

Rationalization: I'm worried about gaining weight.

Response: Initially, smoking cessation might cause a slight weight gain of 5 to 10 lbs due to metabolic changes. If you are eating and exercising as you were before quitting though, the extra weight should come back off within a few months. Also, there are things you can do to help keep your weight stable as you move through recovery from nicotine addiction. 

Rationalization: I don't know what to do with my hands.

Response: That's a common complaint among ex-smokers. We spent a lot of time with a cigarette in our hand, and we feel that void when we first quit. Make a list of activities you can pick up at a moment's notice when the urge to smoke hits and makes you feel fidgety.

Disrupting the thoughts going through your mind by changing your activity will help you overcome this feeling. Take a look at this list of 101 Things to Do Instead of Smoking, compiled by ex-smokers for ideas.

Rationalization: Sometimes I have an almost irresistible urge to have a cigarette.

Response: Early on, cravings to smoke are intense. Our minds are working overtime trying to convince us to give in and have just one cigarette. We spent years learning to cope with everything from hunger to anger by lighting up, and when we quit, it can feel like triggers to smoke are hitting us nonstop.

Learn to decipher the urges as they come and you will be able to respond appropriately to what your body needs. If cravings get strong and you realize you're hungry, have a snack or a meal. If the trigger is caused by fatigue, take a nap or go to bed. Angry? Deal with the issue rather than lighting up. The longer you practice this technique, the easier it will get to understand the messages behind the urge to smoke. With time, cravings will lesson until they're gone altogether.

Rationalization: I blew it. I smoked a cigarette.
Response: Smoking one or a few cigarettes doesn't mean you've "blown it." It does mean that you need to strengthen your resolve to quit and stay close to your support network. You have what it takes to become a successful (and comfortable) ex- Be patient and keep at it!

Adapted from Clinical Opportunities for Smoking Intervention-A Guide for the Busy Physician. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. NIH Pub. No. 86-2178.

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