In case of a slip

A slip is not a complete failure. Review what went wrong and renew your commitment to remaining smoke-free for good.

Person looking out window

So you’ve had a slip

Perhaps it was during an evening out with friends. You may have had a few drinks, saw someone smoking and “bummed” a cigarette. Maybe you were on a break, and a colleague offered you a cigarette; “Just one, you deserve it!” Perhaps it was after a long day, or after a conflict or argument. Whatever the situation, you gave yourself permission to have one cigarette, or a few. And now you may be feeling bad. Perhaps you are thinking, “I knew I couldn’t do it; I should just give up!”

This is a critical time in your quit process; you can use the slip as an excuse to go back to smoking, OR, you can look at what went wrong and renew your commitment to remaining smoke-free for good.  

• It’s a fact: You are able to quit smoking. You have already done it!  
• A slip is not a complete failure; it is a temporary step backward.
• Millions of people have successfully quit smoking. There are more former smokers in Canada than current smokers. The fact is, many of these former smokers experienced a “slip” or even a “relapse” at some point during their quit.   

What to do in case of a slip

Identify the trigger

The first step is to become aware of the situation that triggered the slip. There are a number of high-risk situations where this can happen. These include:

  • Positive intrapersonal situations/emotional states (e.g. celebrations, an evening with friends, etc.)
  • Negative intrapersonal situations/emotional states (e.g. conflict, stress, anger, boredom, etc.)
  • Social pressures (both direct and indirect), including being around other smokers (“Just have one; you deserve it!”)
  • Exposure to smoking-related cues (e.g. smelling cigarette smoke, being with a friend you always used to smoke with, seeing someone smoke on TV or in a movie).
  • Testing personal control (e.g. standing with former “smoking buddies” on a break to “prove” to yourself that you can resist)
  • Alcohol consumption is often accompanied by cues and temptations to smoke, and frequent exposure to these cues can erode the resolve to not smoke. There may also be a decrease in vigilance so that, under the influence of alcohol, the person may be less able to resist the cues and temptation to smoke.  

Examine the situation

Once you have identified what triggered your urge to smoke, you can then examine what happened.

  • Was it one of the above circumstances, or a situation you knew would be "high-risk"?
  • Were you: Hungry? Angry? Using Alcohol? Lonely? or Tired?
  • Did you rationalize having a cigarette (e.g. “I deserve it”, “One won’t hurt”, “I was very stressed”)?
  • Did you go into the situation knowing that you were going to smoke?
  • Did you have difficulty managing one or more of the symptoms of recovery?   

Honestly ask yourself:

  • Did I use my coping strategies?  
  • Did I remember that my brain is asking for nicotine, which is what is making me uncomfortable?
  • Did I just wait, knowing that the craving would pass whether I smoked or not?  
  • Did I breathe deeply?
  • Did I do something different (distract myself)?  
  • Do I truly believe that quitting smoking is a gift I am giving myself (e.g. review my reasons for smoke-free living), or do I see quitting smoking as depriving myself of something that I enjoy?  

It is very possible that you have answered “no” to some of the questions above. You worked hard to develop and establish your coping strategies, but they need to be implemented in order to be effective.


  • Do you understand that nicotine is the substance that keeps you coming back by making you feel uncomfortable?
  • Do you acknowledge that these bad feelings will go away?
  • Do you believe that quitting smoking is a huge gift that you are giving yourself and that the time and energy you put into quitting will translate into huge benefits? 
  • Have you built a comprehensive repertoire of coping strategies to deal with the negative feelings of quitting? 
  • Have you tried out these strategies and refined them so that they are effective?
  • Are there still some myths that you still buy into? Do you still believe, even a little bit, that smoking helps manage stress, or that smoking is cool?
  • Are you unconsciously setting yourself up for a slip? Do you still have have some cigarettes hidden somewhere, “just in case?” Do you “test” your control by putting yourself in situations where you may be tempted? Do not self-sabotage — be your biggest supporter and set yourself up for success!  


  • Develop strategies for the specific situation that led to the slip. These should include behavioural strategies (something you do, such as deep breathe) and cognitive strategies (the way you think, such as reminding yourself that the urge to smoke will go away whether you smoke or you don’t). Prepare powerful counter-arguments for your rationalizations. The next time you experience that situation, you will be prepared!
  • Don’t allow yourself to get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (HALT).
  • You may also make a decision to avoid alcohol for the next few weeks.

For more information and a complete workbook to help you quit smoking, visit your guide to qutting smoking for good!

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