Our attachment to the cigarette is often more psychological than physical. That’s why, years after quitting, ex-smokers might still go through a situation where the craving for a cigarette becomes an insanely strong need. The thing is, for people who smoke every day, for years and years, smoking becomes deeply ingrained in the structure of their day. And through said day, they smoke more frequently than they eat, than they get a hot drink, even more than they speak. Eventually smoking is transformed into more than a bad habit; it becomes second nature. Your hand is used to holding the cigarette, your lips are used to the taste, you might even light a cigarette when still half asleep. You do it automatically. So when you make the decision to quit, your brain is left with a hundred little associations that you weren’t even aware existed. Learning your smoking triggers and how to avoid or manage them may help you a long way in your quest to quit smoking.
Smoking Triggers *
After a while of smoking, smokers develop triggers, as in certain situations that intensify their craving for a cigarette. These triggers are mainly the by-product of classical conditioning: when two actions are performed together for a long enough time, once separated, performing one of the two actions will trigger the need to perform the other, or at least trigger the memory of the other. In the same fashion, innocent activities throughout the day trigger smokers’ need for a cigarette, simply because their brain made the connection that these activities only take place in association with the cigarette. Here are a few of the most common smoking triggers.
After Dinner *
If you have just finished a satisfying meal but do feel like something important is missing, like you haven’t had dessert, though you actually did, but still you crave something to perhaps neutralize the taste, to officially end your meal, then there you are! You’ve made a habit of smoking right after eating, and now food triggers your need for a cigarette.
With Coffee *
People are very ritualistic about their breakfasts. Whether it is tea and the morning paper or coffee and a cigarette, you feel the innate desire to follow that same routine every day. And now coffee makes you think of cigarettes; it doesn’t even feel right to drink it without the distinctive taste of nicotine to compliment its bitterness. Coffee is your trigger!
Long Rides *
Lighting up a cigarette has kept you company through the longest drives, while stuck in a traffic jam, or on the open road with music blasting from your radio. Now the rides don’t feel the same and you miss the smell and are always resisting the urge to stop and buy yourself a pack. The entire situation triggers your smoking needs.
Other Smokers *
Be it perfect strangers smoking in your vicinity, or your regular friends, the act itself happening in front of you is too tempting. Smoking is often a social habit. Seeing someone light up a cigarette reminds you of previous situations where you’d smoke a cigarette in the company of others. You think it was fun and light hearted and enjoyable, and these positive feelings are projected onto smoking. You think smoking, too, was fun and light hearted and enjoyable. And the memory triggers your need to relive this feeling.
Smoking in a party, or in the bar, with a can of beer in hand. Cigarettes make the sour drink taste better, makes your drunkenness feel nicer. Now you crave a cigarette every time you go out for a drink. It is too much intoxication for your body but you still have the best recollection of the feeling, and being drunk makes resisting the need a lot harder.
Open Air *
You couldn’t wait to get out in the open because there’s a no smoking sign in that café or that restaurant. The first thing you do is light up a cigarette and inhale in obvious relief. Now being in the open reminds you of that catharsis, of that one cigarette after a long while of denial. The open air in and of itself triggers you.
You used to look forward to work or class breaks because that’s when you can finally smoke. Now breaks come and you’re at loss with what to do with your time. This emptiness makes you miss smoking.
Whenever you were feeling down, angry, or distressed, you’d reach for the cigarette and a lighter. It was your coping method and you thought it somehow calmed you down. Now whenever you’re stressed, you think the only way to blow some steam is to smoke, and when you don’t, you feel worse. It’s hardest to fight the cravings when you’re not at your best state of mind.
How to Handle Smoking Triggers *
It is important to understand that most of the memories triggered by the aforementioned triggers are amplified and exaggerated. It never felt as good as you think it did, it was never that tasty, that liberating, or that relieving. It was just a habit that your brain learned to rely on a little too much.
Consider finding alternatives and making new associations. If coffee is impossible to drink now, try tea! If hanging out with your previous smoking partners is weakening you resolve, consider taking a break from them, or meeting up with them in non-smoking areas. Try gum, try keeping a stock of healthy snacks at hand to keep your mouth busy whenever the craving hits. Make new habits. Socialize in your breaks, drink more water, sing along the radio when the car ride is too long. And as long as you understand the nature of your triggers, and why you’re feeling what you’re feeling, it’s a lot more possible to deal with the sudden hit of nostalgia. Stay strong!