Stoptober - knowing what is the difference between a ‘Lapse’ and a ‘Relapse’


October 12, 2020

How is your Stoptober panning out so far? You may be flying through the weeks without looking back, or like perhaps you’ve had a momentary lapse? If so, it does not have to lead to smoking fully again.


It is quite possible that you will smoke after quitting. A lapse is common, especially if we’ve been smoking many years of our life, so it’s important to not beat yourself up about it or feel like a failure but to know the difference between a slip and relapse is important and helpful in being prepared for it.


Lapse (or Slip):


You may have heard people say “a lapse in judgement or concentration”. Well when applied to giving up smoking, it points to a momentary lapse in your abstinence. A cheeky cig! This could have been because of a stressful day, had an argument with someone, went to the pub when you probably shouldn’t have! Ultimately you make a brief mistake and rectify it straight away and get back on the straight and narrow. It may look like this to you:

  • You feel bad & frustrated with yourself about it, and look at what went wrong in your plan to quit
  • Learning what triggered the slip, you may say to yourself something like, “being around smokers is really hard. I better think of a new way to deal with this.”
  • You continue the journey, with a new experience & better understanding



A lapse can lead to a relapse…but does not have to! So, a relapse is when you experience a lapse but then fully revert to your previous smoking routine or close to. It not only involves a practical error but giving up psychologically as well. It may look like this to you:

  • You are triggered to take a puff or smoke a cigarette – stress, boredom, with a drink etc. (practical error)
  • Immediately, you feel bad about it and blame yourself.
  • Judging yourself, you say to yourself something like, “I smoked because I can’t quit.” (psychological error)
  • You give up on giving up, eventually leading to a return to the old routine.


A lapse does not have to turn into a relapse, in fact it can provide a great opportunity to learn about yourself and a new trigger. Knowing as much as you can about your triggers (things that make you want to smoke) will help you avoid, distract or plan for those times.


At the time of the lapse, it’s important to remind yourself that it’s merely a temporary setback, all that matters is what you do next – it’s not a failure or a reason to feel that you are back to square one, ultimately you are not a ‘smoker’ again. Take some time to consider what you learned when you were not smoking. What were some of the tools and techniques that you used to stay smoke free? What triggered the slip? And what can you do differently if faced with the same situation? Just remember a slip is also not an excuse to relapse and go back to smoking regularly again.  

Quitting is a process (and rarely a perfect one), with lots of twists and turns, ups and downs – letting go of expectations of how we think it may go can enable to us to meet any challenges with an open mind.


Wherever you may be on your quit journey now during Stoptober, or if considering beginning the process or have just started smoking again following a few months smoke free – get in touch with one of our Quit Coaches. | |03301 244 648