Skip to main content

Quit Smoking: Top Five Psychological Strategies


Quit Smoking: Top Five Psychological Strategies

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 20 percent of American adults or over 40 million people currently smoke. Smoking has a multitude of damaging effects on health, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, oral cancer, colon cancer, emphysema, bronchitis and about 90 percent of lung cancers. Despite evidence indicating the negative health effects of smoking, quitting remains very difficult to accomplish even for those who know the facts.

Fortunately, the situation is not hopeless. Researchers in the field of habit breaking and smoking cessation have converged on five major strategies that are most helpful in eliminating this deadly habit. Remember, it is never too late to make a change. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s report, after only 12 hours of quitting smoking, the levels of carbon monoxide in the blood stabilize at normal levels. After 15 years of quitting smoking, risks of coronary heart disease and stroke are at normal levels. Get started on the road to recovery with these techniques.

1. Educate Yourself

One of the first steps to changing a habit is to inform yourself about the pros and cons of changing your behavior. Take an active role in educating yourself about any potential benefits or consequences of continuing to smoke. Read as many materials as you can about the health consequences of smoking and take notes so you can make an informed decision. Become a resident expert on the topic! Also, consider any financial benefits to quitting smoking, like the money you’ll save not buying cigarettes. It will be difficult to stop this habit completely until you are in the right mindset to decide to change. Start learning by going to the website for the American Cancer Society.

2. Identify and Eliminate Triggers

Triggers are physical and psychological stimuli in your environment that remind you either consciously or subconsciously of your desire to smoke. The longer you have smoked, the stronger the connections are between these triggers and your urges. So, the first step is to distance yourself from these triggers as much as possible.

  • Throw out any smoking paraphernalia like ashtrays or lighters and dry clean any clothing that smells of cigarette smoke.
  • Begin to disconnect smoking from the triggers that you can’t eliminate, e.g., smoking with morning coffee or driving.
  • Before you quit, try to do these things without smoking.
  • Work on reducing any stress in your life that increases your urge to smoke and maybe completely change in your lifestyle. Your health is more than worth it.
  • If necessary, seek help from a psychotherapist at the school’s counseling center.

3. Seek and Use Social Support

Quitting smoking is difficult in general, but doing it alone is almost impossible. For one, you will want to vent to a close friend, partner or family member about these difficulties. Secondly, these individuals can make sure you work toward your goal, despite yourself! Tell as many people as you can of your plan to quit smoking. If you have friends that smoke, quit together. Keep in mind, some friends and family members may be triggers to smoke. Ask them not to smoke around you and, if necessary, take a break from spending time with them during the early stage of quitting.

4. Improve Your Chance for Success

Quitting smoking is a physical and mental process. Research indicates that less than seven percent of those who try are able to stop smoking without medicines, nicotine replacement therapies or other help. Medicines like Zyban and Chantix, available by prescription from a doctor, raise that figure to between 25 and 33 percent. And new studies report that behavioral and supportive therapies may increase success rates even further. Some replacement therapies, including patches, gum and lozenges, are available over-the-counter and may be available free at your college health center. Some replacement therapies even offer free telephone support from the manufacturer.

5. Maintain the Gain

Stopping the habit, especially a physiological addiction, involves not only stopping a behavior but substituting a new one. In psychology, we call these approach goals, and they should be a new part of your daily schedule. More generally, get involved in healthy habits, including consistent exercise, taking a daily multivitamin and eating well-balanced meals. You might find that gum or breath mints provide a nice oral substitute. Also, start new hobbies that will keep your mind off smoking or that prevent you from smoking. For example, knitting or painting keeps your hands busy. Reward yourself for this new lifestyle, and recognize that there may be relapses, but these are a normal part of the recovery process. Also remember, even though you may have a relapse, you have already proven you can abstain for a period or time, and any time is valuable. You can view that time as good practice for successfully quitting for good.