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Stages of Change and the Smoking Habit

Harry Mills, Ph.D.

Although smoking is addictive, and can be an extremely difficult habit to break, millions of people have successfully quit. For many people, the desire to quit itself is not strong enough to carry them through the process. If you try to quit without a plan, you are more likely to give in to cravings. If you try to plan ahead without knowing all of your options, as well as the potential pitfalls, you may find yourself frustrated and convinced that quitting is impossible. Many people have been where you are today, and many methods have been developed to help you through.

clock with time for change on itIn the next part of this article, we are going to discuss methods you can use to help you to quit successfully. We are also going to outline the things you need to do before you quit that will help you to work through cravings. Before you decide to go ahead with this enormous task, however, it may be helpful for you to understand how successful people face major changes in their lives. Understanding the best way to approach a problem is the first step in eventually overcoming it.

People tend to go through several stages when working through a life-changing event. Some people can move quickly through the stages, while others move more slowly, perhaps even taking a step backward before continuing on toward the goal. As you consider each stage of change, think about how it has played out in your own life, and also think about how it will play out as you commit yourself to becoming smoke free. While your experience may not mirror the order of the stages listed below, understanding each stage can help you on your way to achieve your goal.

Challenge

Change starts with a challenge. Most people choose to stop smoking because life presents them with a challenge to their smoking habit. Perhaps they find themselves coughing and wheezing after exercise that never bothered them before, or they see a loved one die of smoking-related lung cancer. Maybe they look at their children and they realize that they might not live to see them reach adulthood if they continue to smoke. Any circumstance that causes you to question whether you should continue to smoke can become the challenge that starts you on the road to quitting. If you are reading this article, it is likely that you have already encountered a challenge to your smoking.

Awareness

Once challenged, you will likely be open to learning more about the risks of smoking. You might also begin to weigh the pros and cons of being a smoker. Developing your awareness can involve reading an article like this one, attending a lecture at a hospital, surfing the Internet for sites that deal with smoking, or just talking with your family doctor. Awareness is an important step. The more you know about the health risks of smoking, and the more you understand about the benefits of quitting, the more effort you will put into successfully quitting. At the same time, the less you learn about the negative aspects of smoking, the easier it will be for you to slip into old patterns.

Preparation

People who attempt to quit smoking but ultimately fail often do so because they did not have a plan for facing temptations. Perhaps they started a program but felt pressured to smoke in social situations, or they found an old pack and decided there was no harm in smoking just one. The most important thing you can do for yourself as you prepare to quit is to decide how you are going to face similar temptations in your own life. Deciding on a plan and sticking to it will ensure that you are successfully moving toward your goal.

Action

The most important day of action is the day you quit. This is the day on which you get rid of everything you own that has to do with smoking, and you begin to implement a smoking cessation program. If you have taken time to find out why quitting is the best thing you can do and have prepared yourself to successfully complete a specific stop-smoking program, you have stacked the deck in your favor. The first days will not be easy, but if you are prepared to succeed, you will maximize your chances of staying quit.

Maintaining Your Gains

Very few people manage to quit smoking without experiencing at least one relapse. If you lose your willpower and smoke one cigarette, use your relapse as an opportunity to learn from your mistake. Take note of what was going on in your life when you relapsed, and use that information to prepare yourself to make it through similar situations in the future without a cigarette. Remember, a lapse (smoking one cigarette on one day) is not a complete relapse (going back to your regular old smoking habit) unless you let it become one.

The remainder of this article outlines the things you can do during each stage of change to ensure that you successfully reach your goal. As you move through the stages, keep in mind that you may find yourself slipping back into your old patterns. If and when this happens, take the time to identify what you did before in order to successfully move on to the next step, then try again. Chances are you have already experienced, or are currently experiencing the challenge stage, and you are beginning the process of gathering information on smoking cessation, otherwise known as the awareness stage.

 




Contact Information

Sarah Dinklage, LICSW
Executive Director

sdinklage@risas.org

Charles Cudworth, MA
Director, SAS

ccudworth@risas.org

Leigh Reposa, MSW, LICSW
Program Manager
lreposa@risas.org

Colleen Judge, LMHC                  Manager, SAS
cjudge@risas.org 

Kathleen Sullivan
Manager, Community Prevention
ksullivan@risas.org


300 Centerville Rd.
Suite 301 South 
Warwick, RI 02886
401-732-8680


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