Successful quitting usually takes a number of attempts.(3) In the course of attempting to stop smoking, smokers may have slip-ups (a brief resumption of smoking behaviour, followed by renewed abstinence) or relapses (a slip-up which initiates complete resumption of smoking behaviour, resulting in an unsuccessful quit attempt). Research into the conditions under which slip-ups and relapses occur helps to shape more successful programs to aid prospective quitters.
Recent Australian research has shown that around 80% of slip-ups become relapses.(26) Heavier smokers are no more likely to relapse than lighter smokers.
Forty percent of slip-ups occurred in the first three days following cessation, and another 34% within two weeks. The earlier the slip-up, the more likely it was that it would result in a complete relapse.
Slip-ups, followed by a renewed quit attempt, were more likely to occur in response to smoking 'cues', in social situations, and while in a positive mood. Being with smokers, drinking alcohol, and accepting a cigarette from someone else (as opposed to buying or still carrying one's own cigarettes) were all associated with slipping up transiently and resuming abstinence. Unsuccessful quitting, on the other hand, was more strongly associated with the slip-up occurring in response to personal problems and external life pressures, in a home or work environment (as opposed to a social setting), and while in a stressed mood.
Although there was no overall significant sex difference in outcome of slip-up, or in proportions of men to women having slip-ups, there were significant sex differences in the circumstances under which a slip-up was likely to occur. Women were more likely to have a slip-up when feeling negative, sad or depressed, or at home, while men were more likely to have a slip-up while at work or drinking alcohol. Borland comments that smoking may play a different role in male and female smokers' lives, men being more likely to smoke while dealing with external pressures, and women in response to the emotional consequences of such pressures.(26) These observations are consistent with those of several overseas studies.(27) However it has also been argued that these apparent gender differences merely reflect the situations in which men and women are more likely to find themselves as a result of socio-economic level and education, rather than any intrinsic gender-based differences.(28)