Three Mistakes I Made When Quitting Smoking

This is what I did differently to finally kick my cigarette habit.

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It’s been just over a year since I stopped smoking cigarettes. That makes it the longest I’ve gone without nicotine in my entire adult life.

I’m extremely proud of my success, but I had an incredibly rocky road getting here. I’ve tried to quit smoking for years, and it never went smoothly.

Now that I’ve actually managed to stay quit for a year, I can see more clearly some of the things that I had been doing wrong. There were three major mistakes that I was making which made my attempts to quit more difficult than they needed to be.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

My first mistake was relying far too heavily on nicotine replacement therapy. Replacement therapy is a broad term which includes any methods of getting nicotine without actually smoking cigarettes. The first replacement that I ever used was nicotine gum, but the one I turned to most often was the nicotine patch.

Nicotine patches are intended to be used for a few months to help ease the transition from smoker to non-smoker. They come in three “steps,” each with a little less nicotine than the one before.

The first step gives you about as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes per day, and the final step gives you only 1/3 that amount of nicotine.

When I used the patches, I generally got stuck at step 2. The patches made it much easier to stop smoking cigarettes than if I had gone cold turkey, but they didn’t help me to break my actual addiction to nicotine.

Whenever I tried to move to step 3, or get off the patches entirely, I’d start to have wild emotional swings. These always ended up with me going back to cigarettes for a week or two, until I was ready to start on the patches again.

I stayed stuck in this loop for a couple of years, well past the recommended maximum usage time for nicotine replacement.

When I stopped smoking last year, I skipped the nicotine patches. Instead, I went straight from smoking cigarettes to getting no nicotine at all.

The initial transition was much rougher. The first few days were insanely difficult. The really bad withdrawal symptoms ended within a week though. At that point, I still wasn’t feeling great, but it was no worse than if I had been using the patches.

Overall, I think that by skipping the patches, I was able to find much more success. Nicotine patches certainly work for some smokers, so I wouldn’t make a blanket recommendation to skip them, but for someone who has been using them for years like I did, I think going cold turkey is worth a try.

Hanging Out With Smokers

My second big mistake was continuing to hang out with friends who smoked. Many of my friends were smokers, including my best friend, who I saw practically every day.

Unfortunately, whenever I hung out with smokers, it would make staying quit nearly impossible. My cravings were already incredibly intense, and being around someone who smoked would amplify them even further. I was never able to watch someone smoking without ending up smoking one myself.

Sometimes I told my friends ahead of time that I was quitting. I’d even ask them not to give me any cigarettes, no matter what I said.

My friends were good about this, and would avoid smoking around me when they knew I was trying to quit. It helped a little, but not enough. I’d still smell the cigarettes on them, and even just seeing the people that I normally smoked with would be enough to trigger my cravings.

I’d end up begging them for cigarettes, telling them I had changed my mind, and even getting angry at them. If they still refused to give me a cigarette, I’d drive straight to the store and buy a pack.

When I quit last year, I temporarily stopped hanging out with anyone who was a smoker, even my best friend. It was rough to cut out so much social contact, but I knew that it was something I needed to do if I ever really wanted to quit for good.

By avoiding triggers, I made staying smoke free much easier than it had ever been before. My success even inspired my best friend to quit about a month after I had.

Having “Just One”

The last mistake that I used to make was constantly talking myself into “just one” cigarette. This mistake is funny because I used to do the same exact thing when I was trying to quit drinking a few years earlier. I should have learned my lesson from my experience getting sober, but somehow it didn’t transfer over.

Whenever I was trying to quit smoking, I’d look for justifications to break down and have “just one” cigarette. I’d tell myself that by having one cigarette, I could somehow ease the withdrawal symptoms without ruining my attempt to quit smoking.

The way that I imagined it going was that I’d smoke a cigarette, I’d suddenly be clear-headed, and then I’d throw away the rest of the pack and go right back to quitting.

The way that it actually worked is that I’d buy a pack, smoke a cigarette, and then bargain with myself that I should have a couple more. After three or four cigarettes I’d feel guilty and throw away the pack.

Instead of making me feel better, it would make the withdrawal symptoms far worse. Soon, I’d buy another pack, and I’d end up smoking that one all the way through. After that, I’d be right back to my pack-a-day habit.

Having “just one” cigarette was as sure to lead me back to smoking as having “just one” drink had lead me back to drinking. When it comes to my addictions, I needed to cut them out of my life entirely, not incrementally.

The key to my success this year was to stop taking half measures, and go all in on quitting. I stopped nicotine completely, without using replacements or individual cigarettes to help ease the transition, and I did my best to avoid triggers as well.

After one year without smoking, I’m feeling optimistic. I know the worst of quitting is behind me, and I’m excited to continue remaining completely smoke-free.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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