Quitting Smoking: Coping With Cravings and Withdrawal
Quitting Smoking: Coping With Cravings and Withdrawal
It’s not easy to quit smoking. The nicotine in cigarettes is addicting.
Your body craves it because it makes you feel good.
So when you
try to stop smoking, you go through
nicotine withdrawal. You feel awful, and you may worry
about gaining weight. You get cranky and anxious. It can be hard to sleep.
You’re not the only one. Most people feel bad when they try to
quit. The hardest part is not reaching for a smoke to feel better. Use the tips
in this Actionset to help you cope. The information also applies if you use
chew or snuff.
- Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are at their worst
during the first couple of days or so after you quit. They may last a few weeks.
- Medicines help ease withdrawal symptoms and craving. This can help you feel better and make it more likely that you
won’t start smoking again.
- Exercise and healthy
eating also may help.
Talk with your doctor
Your doctor can prescribe medicines that can get you through withdrawal. Together, you can plan the best way to use nicotine replacement products or medicine.
If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it
with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to mark areas or make notes
in the margins where you have questions.
How can you get through it?
Get counseling or other support
Don’t try to do it
alone. Your doctor can help you learn about medicines or about how to use nicotine replacement therapy. And a support group can keep you on track and motivated. People who use telephone, group, one-on-one, or Internet counseling are more likely to
stop smoking. Counselors can help you with practical ideas to avoid common
mistakes and help you succeed.
- Call the national quitline at 1-800-QUIT NOW
and talk to some experts.
- Ask friends and family for help, especially those who are former smokers.
- Ask friends and family members who are smokers not to smoke around you, and try to avoid situations that remind you of
- See a counselor, doctor, or nurse who is trained in
helping people quit. The more counseling you get, the better your chances of
- Enroll in an online or in-person stop-smoking class or program.
- Try a free quit-smoking app such as National Cancer Institute’s QuitPal. Have friends and family record encouraging video messages that you can play when you are feeling overwhelmed.
- Join a support group of others who are trying to quit.
Many people smoke because nicotine
helps them relax. Without the nicotine, they feel uptight and grouchy. But
there may be better ways to cope with these feelings, that is, ways that may make dealing with
cigarette cravings easier. Try these ideas:
- Take several deep breaths slowly. Hold the
last one, then breathe out as slowly as possible. Try to relax all your
- Try massage, yoga, or the traditional Chinese relaxation
tai chi and qi gong.
- Listen to relaxing music. Learn
self-hypnosis, meditation, and
- If you can, try to avoid
stressful situations when you first stop smoking. If you are like a lot of people who smoke, your main reason for smoking may be that you simply want a break. If this sounds like you, try a non-cigarette break and take a walk
or spend time with nonsmokers.
These ideas can help you relax. But it’s also good to
figure out the cause of your stress. Then, learn how to change the way you
react to it.
Be more active
Physical activity may help reduce
your nicotine cravings and relieve some withdrawal symptoms. It doesn’t have to
be intense activity. Mild exercise is fine.footnote 1 Being
more active also may help you reduce stress and keep your weight down.
When you have the urge to smoke, do something active instead. Walk around
the block. Head to the gym. Do some gardening or housework. Take the dog for a
walk. Play with the kids.
Get plenty of rest
If you have trouble sleeping,
try these tips:
- Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time
- Take a warm bath or a relaxing walk before
- Avoid drinking alcohol late in the evening, because it can
cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.
- Don’t have coffee,
black tea, or other drinks with caffeine in the 8 hours before you go to bed.
- Do not take naps, unless you are sure they don’t keep you awake at
- If you can’t sleep, talk to your doctor about medicines to
help you sleep while you are first going through withdrawal.
- Before going to bed, avoid using devices with LED-emitting light, as found in some smartphones and other handheld computers.
meditation or deep breathing before you go to bed.
Eat healthy foods
Quitting smoking increases your
appetite. To avoid gaining weight, keep in mind that the secret to weight
control is eating healthy food and being more active.
- Don’t try to diet. Most people who deprive
themselves of food at the same time they are trying to stop smoking have an
even harder time of stopping smoking.
- Substitute more fruits,
vegetables, and whole-grain foods for foods that have a lot of sugar or fat.
For more on eating and smoking, see Quitting Smoking: Dealing With Weight Gain.
Reduce demands on your time and energy
smoking can be harder if you have a lot of work or family demands.
- Try to set your quit date for a time when
there are fewer work and family demands.
- Tell your spouse, family,
and friends to ask less of you during the first days and weeks that you
- Do something fun with the money you save from not buying
- Be aware that being tired from activity, lack of sleep,
or your emotions can make it harder not to smoke.
Use a stop-smoking medicine
Medicines can help you
deal with nicotine withdrawal and cigarette cravings. Most medicines also help prevent weight gain. Research shows that they
more than double your chances of quitting for good.footnote 2
- Nicotine replacement medicines can help
relieve the physical cravings for nicotine. Nicotine patches, gum, lozenges,
and inhalers are helpful, especially when you have a strong craving.
- Medicines without nicotine, such as varenicline (Chantix) or bupropion (Zyban), can also help you quit
smoking. If you take varenicline, you can stop smoking a little bit at a time, which may increase your chance of quitting.
For more on using medicine, see Quitting Smoking: Should I Use Medicine?
Read how others manage
Many people try to quit
smoking many times before they can stop for good.
that you’ll be more successful if you get help. Here’s how a few people finally
managed to quit.
took Michael seven tries to quit smoking.
“It’s awful. My craving for cigarettes was very, very strong,” he says.
“You just become so frustrated. You feel all this pent-up energy and don’t know
how to relieve it.
“And you could just go to the corner store and
buy a pack and end the misery. … That’s what I would end up doing.”
He finally managed to quit by using nicotine patches. He’s been
smoke-free for nearly 4 years.
Eric had his first cigarette when he was 12. By age 23, he
was tearing through a pack and a half a day.
He tried quitting
“cold turkey.” He tried nicotine gum. Neither worked for him. So he tried
The patches made him feel sick for a few days.
The first week without cigarettes felt like torture, because his cravings were
so strong. But when he started using gum along with the patch, the cravings became bearable. In 5 weeks, he had managed to stop
- Taylor AH, et al. (2007). The acute effects of exercise on cigarette cravings, withdrawal symptoms, affect and smoking behaviour: A systematic review. Addiction, 102(4): 534-543.
- Stead LF, et al. (2012). Nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (11).
Other Works Consulted
- Facts and Comparisons eAnswers (2017). Varenicline tartrate oral. Facts and Comparisons eAnswers. https://fco.factsandcomparisons.com/lco/action/doc/retrieve/docid/fc_dfc/5549495. Accessed May 11, 2017.
- Ebbert J, et al. (2015). Effect of Varenicline on smoking cessation through smoking reduction: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 313(7): 687-694. doi: 10.1001/jama.2015.280. Accessed online April 26, 2017.
Current as of:
June 8, 2017