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The Psychology Behind Your Smoking Habits

Even though every cigarette packet comes with a warning about the harms they cause, some of us feel we simply can’t stop. A quick look at the psychology behind smoking tells us why.

Habits are things we do regularly and automatically. An example of a habit is when you reach for a cigarette without thinking about it, whether first thing in the morning, when drinking a cup of tea, or as you step outside the office. Because they are automatic, habits are hard to break, but the good news is that they can be reversed.

What is a habit?

Habits form when we do things so often they become second nature. Repeating a certain action makes your mind crate a connection between the action and the situation you do it in. Eventually, the action becomes triggered by the situation without even thinking about it. For example, if you regularly have a cigarette after dinner, you begin to associate finishing dinner with smoking. After a while, smoking after dinner becomes a habit: something you do automatically. The same can go for having a cup of tea, being around a certain friend or in a certain place: any situation you regularly smoke in.

The role of nicotine

The smoking habit is made stronger by nicotine addiction. Nicotine causes the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain, which is why smoking often seems to make you feel good. The brain gets used to this feel-good rush, which leads to cravings. It also means that cues for smoking – the situations, people or things that you associate with having a cigarette – become stronger. They grab your attention and create a powerful urge to smoke.

Breaking free

The first step in breaking free from your habits is to identify your cues for smoking. You can do this by keeping a record of what is going on each time you have/crave a cigarette:

  • time of day
  • how strong your cravings are on a scale of 1-5
  • what you are doing
  • where you are
  • who you are with
  • how you feel

After a week or two, look back to see what your most common and powerful triggers are. These are the ones you’ll want to tackle first.

You can outsmart your triggers before they strike by changing the relevant parts of your routine or social life. For example, if drinking tea is a trigger, switch to another drink and/or change the times of day you drink tea. If you’re prone to smoke at the pub, think of somewhere new to meet your friends. The more you change things up, the easier it will be to stay smoke-free.

Each time you resist a craving or avoid a trigger to light up, you weaken the habit and take a step closer to a smoke-free life.

Looking for support?

Feel free to get in touch with our friendly team or sign up online to find out about the stop smoking support available in your local area.



How does this work?

The tailored approach LiveWell Dorset uses to come up with solutions to the things that are stopping us achieving our goals, is based upon work done by University College London developing the COM-B model of behaviour change. In this model, all behaviour is influenced by understanding a person’s capability to change, their opportunity to change and their motivation to change. By understanding which of these is the biggest barrier to change, we can tailor support accordingly. This model of behaviour change is at the centre of the support we offer, online and in person.

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