The Psychology of Smoking Addiction

A lot of emphasis is placed on the physical symptoms of smoking addiction, particularly when quitting is the objective. Most people will be able to tell you that to really quit, you have to overcome the cravings and the withdrawal symptoms the body goes through. Far less attention is paid to the psychology behind smoking addiction. If you’re thinking about quitting smoking, or know someone who is quitting smoking, then understanding that there is a mental aspect to the process, as well as the physical act of stopping smoking, is a benefit.

How it works

The psychology of a cigarette addiction is that there are powerful drives that motivate more for smoking than not smoking. This establishes learned associations between the act of smoking in the presence of certain cues or triggers, and the impulse to smoke. It sets up a pattern that when the established triggers present themselves, the urge to smoke arises.

The fact that nicotine makes smoking enjoyable means that there is also a ‘want’ to smoke. Combined with the ‘need’ to smoke that comes from nicotine levels affecting moods and behaviours, the psychology behind the act of smoking is a powerful motivator to not quit, despite your best intentions.

Some of the psychological factors that influence cigarette smoking and the success of quitting are grief processing, identity issues and using cigarettes as a coping mechanism. The complex issue around virtually all of these psychological elements is that they don’t respond to rational processing or reasoning. Being told that smoking is bad for you, even if it is done graphically, typically doesn’t negate the urge to smoke.

Are you psychologically hooked?

The truth is, most smokers are probably psychologically bound to their habit.

However, it’s a useful exercise to try and acknowledge the psychological factors that influence your smoking, and could be hindering quitting.

It’s important to identify why you smoke. The reasons are numerous, from finding a way to pass the time to reducing anxiety or stress to enhancing enjoyment of drinking, celebrations and company.

It’s also important to identify if you are, in fact, psychologically dependent on your smoking addiction.

Ask yourself if you could go without smoking for three days and not have cravings or withdrawals? If the addiction is purely to the physical effects of nicotine, then a patch should help you quit in no time. Without a psychological element, you also shouldn’t feel triggered by things like seeing other people smoke or being in an environment where smoking is common.

The fact is that the psychological aspects of addiction are complex and unique and have not been studied enough to truly be understood. However, you do need to address these issues in some way or another or your resolve to quit might not be as strong as you think.

What you can do

There are some things you can do if you have both a psychological and a physical addiction to smoking:

  • Don’t carry matches or a lighter.
  • Avoid situations that you associate with smoking.
  • Keep busy to overcome the urge to smoke.
  • Remember the health risks of smoking.
  • Focus on what you expect to gain by quitting.
  • Breathe deeply to fight off the desire to smoke.
  • Drink plenty of water to remain hydrated.
  • Cultivate a support network that can help you quit, whether it’s family and friends or online spaces that provide support and ideas for remaining smoke-free.



Links / References:

Quit Smoking Advisor – Cigarette addiction: It’s not just the nicotine… Retrieved from

UK National Smoking Cessation Conference – The psychology of cigarette addiction. (2009). Retrieved from

Scientific Psychic – The Psychology of Smoking. Retrieved from

4 Comments Add yours

  1. It is quite spot on, although for a chain smoker avoiding triggering situations is almost impossible. Working with hypnosis has its traits, but doesn’t quit for you (there’s still a lot of work to do). Another good technique is journalling – when you write down every cigarette and emotions behind it – it’s quite easy to spot the triggers.


    1. Yes that’s absolutely true! Thank you for the input, those are definitely options smokers should try out if they wish to quit.


  2. I’m still working on my smoking. It comes and goes, but every try is getting me closer to the goal! Journalling every cigarette not only shows emotion behind smoking, but also how weird foundations smoking has.


  3. letstalklung says:

    Reblogged this on Let's Talk Lung.


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