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How often do smokers relapse when they quit?

Drug Pictures Most smokers who are successful at quitting actually relapse at some point. See more pictures of drugs.

Your hands are shaking. You're anxious. Your head is pounding and your chest feels tight. You have trouble concentrating and haven't been able to sleep in days. And now you're so irritable that you snap at people for no reason. You stand up to take a walk, but you're dizzy, and sometimes your stomach hurts or your throat is sore. These are just some of the symptoms that accompany the process of nicotine withdrawal, and some of the reasons that so many people who try to quit smoking eventually fall off the wagon [source: National Cancer Institute].

The relapse rate for smokers who try to quit the habit is discouragingly high: About 90 percent ultimately begin smoking again at some point down the line [source: University of South Florida]. Most of those smokers relapse in the first three months after the decision to quit, when cravings are particularly strong and withdrawal symptoms are still occurring, or are fresh in the smoker's mind. That extremely high rate of relapse is the result of the addictive nature of the nicotine in cigarettes [source: University of South Florida].

Once a smoker takes a drag off a cigarette, the nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs and travels to the brain within seconds. Once it reaches the brain, nicotine increases the brain's production of dopamine, a chemical known as a neurotransmitter that creates a feeling of pleasure or reward. Nicotine is considered highly addictive because the effects of the drug start to wear off in only about 20 minutes, which is why many smokers have trouble making it through a work day, or even a long movie, without taking a cigarette break.

It's important to remember that drug addiction (including addiction to nicotine) is a biological condition. So, while it's important for smokers to take personal responsibility for quitting, scientists consider addiction a disease. According to the National Institute of Health, relapse rates for nicotine-addicted smokers are similar to relapse rates for patients with diseases like hypertension and diabetes that also require lifestyle adjustments in addition to treatment [source: National Institute of Health]. So, smokers who have trouble quitting shouldn't blame themselves for being weak or lacking will power. Quitting requires biological and behavioral changes.

To find out what factors can trigger relapses, and how to fight them using everything from meditation to carrot sticks, read on.