Managing triggers and cravings. Some tips.

Today's post will be a follow-up from a previous post "Wondering why quitting is so difficult?" Although this is written for individuals trying to quit tobacco, those who are struggling with other addictions or food cravings may also find this information helpful! Triggers and cravings are a very normal part of quitting smoking or any addiction. They can also be complex, involving our environment, other people, emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations. So how, then, do you manage the triggers and cravings that come along with quitting smoking or other addictions?


1. Know your triggers. Think about people, places, and things that prompt or contribute to smoking. Also consider emotional triggers. Take some time to sit down a create a list of all of the things that you: 

  • do or feel right before you have a cigarette

  • do once you are smoking a cigarette

  • make you think "it would be nice to have a cigarette right now" 

  • plan around smoking or smoke breaks  


2. Categorize triggers based on whether they are more:

  • External (based on people, places, things)

  • Internal (based on thoughts, feelings, sensations) 


3. Develop a plan for managing triggers.

  • External triggers:

    • Avoid: Do you always smoke outside on your back deck? If so, on the first week of quitting, do not spend time on the back deck. Are there certain people you smoke with? Make plans with other nonsmokers for a bit.

    • Alter: Do you always have a cup of coffee with your first morning cigarette? Try switching to tea, or drinking coffee 15 minutes after having a cigarette before you quit. Always smoke in your favorite chair? Try moving around the furniture - and be sure to get rid of ashtrays!

    • Alternatives: When you smoke, your hands and mouth are engaged in an activity. Give your hands and mouth alternatives such as straws, toothpicks, gum, ice cubes, water, fruit, veggies, worry beads, stress ball, video games, etc.  


  • Internal triggers:

    • Internal triggers take just as much planning - if not more - than external triggers. Usually it is not possible to avoid internal triggers, although if stress is a trigger you may be able to avoid certain situations that increase stress.

    • Build up your distress tolerance. Ok, this is not fun, but can be quite helpful. On a purely physical level, nicotine withdrawal will usually cause an increase in anxiety. Although, anxiety is also otherwise a common trigger for smoking. Spend some time "practicing" allowing yourself to be anxious and not needing to smoke to get rid of it. 

      • Try simply identifying your emotion and consciously acknowledging it's presence.

      • Take 5 slow, deep breaths.

      • Continue to do whatever you are doing without allowing the emotion to dictate your behavior or distract you.

    • See if your internal triggers are trying to tell you something other than "I need a cigarette." Perhaps your anxiety, hopelessness, or anger that usually leads you to smoke is trying to tell you something else. Maybe your anger is justified by another cause, such as needing to stand up for yourself at work, or needing to set boundaries in a relationship. As humans, it is usually much easier for us to do something in the short term (smoke) to relieve the uncomfortable emotion than listen to and take action on what the emotion is signaling for us to do. 


It's all about breaking the link between the trigger and/or craving and the smoking behavior! Remember that triggers and cravings will happen - it's all about what you choose to do in response to them. 

What are some of the ways that you've broken the link between a trigger or craving and smoking?

Quit Smoking counseling available! I have a smoking cessation group meeting in my Andersonville office, as well as individual counseling for residents of Illinois and Rhode Island.