Substitutes & Distractions

Quitting smoking can be hard. Once quit, most smokers face urges, sometimes strong urges, to light up. Some of these urges are triggered by a physical craving for nicotine and some are triggered by certain times of the day or activities (such as driving, finishing a meal, taking a break from work, or being where you used to smoke). Your urges may also be triggered by a need to relax and manage stress, maybe as you sit on the couch and watch TV.

But, there is a solution. Quitting smoking doesn’t have to be a battle of will power. There are ways to help urges pass without giving in and smoking, or gritting your teeth until they pass. These tools are called Substitutes and Distractions.

What is a Substitute?

Substitutes are things that can be used to keep your mouth and hands busy when you get the urge to smoke. Substitutes can include things like toothpicks, short straws, cinnamon sticks, gum, and hard candies for your mouth. For your hands you can try pencils, paperclips, worry stones, or worry beads.

What is a Distraction?

Distractions can include things or activities that take your mind off smoking when the urge hits. These can include taking a walk or getting some exercise, doing a puzzle of some kind, doodling, or starting a new hobby - anything to get your mind off of tobacco for 5 minutes. The only thing that limits what kind of substitutes and distractions you use is your imagination.

How Do I Know Which Tool Works Best for Me?

Many people feel that they have to give in if they get a strong urge to smoke. Getting strong urges is very normal during the first few days after quitting. But you don’t have to smoke even if you want to!

If you are planning to quit soon, put together a list of different ideas for substitutes and distractions. Then give them a try BEFORE you quit. Start by matching some substitutes and distractions to your smoking situations and then try one or more of these tools to help the urge pass.

You can also set up a “mini-quit” to practice your substitutes and distractions. A mini-quit is an easy, risk-free way to learn how to manage urges to smoke before you quit. By practicing mini-quits you can learn the techniques that will help you quit smoking for good. To read more about mini-quits, take a look at the article,How to do a Mini-Quit.

Don’t give up if the strategy doesn’t work the first time. Remember, you’ve probably repeated your smoking patterns thousands of times over the years. Practice will help your substitutes and distractions become your new pattern.

If you are already quit and are fighting urges to smoke, try using some coping skills when you are having trouble with urges. You have done a lot of the work already and these distractions and substitutes may help you stay quit!

Finding ways to cope with urges to smoke can increase your chances of quitting for life. See what works for you. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!