To print: Use your web browser's print feature. Close this window after printing.

Quitting Smoking: Coping With Cravings and Withdrawal


Table of Contents


Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.   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.

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.

Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  What are the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal?
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  Why does nicotine withdrawal make you feel so bad?
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  How can you get through it?
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  Where do you go from here?

What? - What is the medical information or key concepts related to the action?  What are the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal?

Nicotine withdrawal can make you grouchy, angry, stressed, and anxious. You may feel hungrier than you did when you were smoking. You may have trouble concentrating, feel restless, and have problems sleeping. You may also feel grouchy and crave cigarettes.

The symptoms are worst during the first week or so and may last a few weeks. For some people, the first month can be hard.

Test Your Knowledge

  1. When you try to quit smoking, you crave cigarettes. You may feel grouchy and angry or have trouble concentrating and dealing with stress.

    1. True

      This answer is correct.

      When people try to quit smoking, nicotine withdrawal symptoms may start as soon as a few hours after their last cigarette. Dependence on nicotine may be as powerful as addiction to heroin, cocaine, or alcohol.

    2. False

      This answer is incorrect.

      When people try to quit smoking, nicotine withdrawal symptoms may start as soon as a few hours after their last cigarette. Dependence on nicotine may be as powerful as addiction to heroin, cocaine, or alcohol.


Why? - Why the action is important?  Why does nicotine withdrawal make you feel so bad?

The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are your body's way of begging for more nicotine.

When you smoke for a long time, your brain learns to depend on nicotine to help you do things. It helps you concentrate, control your anger and hunger, and relax, for example. In fact, nerve cells in your brain have changed. They are different from those of nonsmokers.

When you stop smoking, your brain has to relearn how to do the things nicotine helped you do. Until it does, you may have trouble concentrating and controlling your anger. You may be hungrier and more stressed than when you smoked.

Test Your Knowledge

  1. Cigarette cravings and withdrawal symptoms are your body's way of begging for more nicotine. Smoking a cigarette might make you feel better for a short time, but your body would continue to crave more nicotine.

    1. True

      This answer is correct.

      That's right. Using medicine or doing other things, such as exercising and reducing stress, will make you feel better and increase your chances of quitting for good. They also are much better for your health.

    2. False

      This answer is incorrect.

      Cravings and other withdrawal symptoms do mean that your body is asking for more nicotine. Smoking may be a quick way to get relief, but using medicine or doing other things, such as exercising and reducing stress, will make you feel better and increase your chances of quitting for good. They also are much better for your health.


How? - Learn the steps involved in taking action.  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.

Reduce stress

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:

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.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:

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.

For more on eating and smoking, see Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition. Quitting Smoking: Dealing With Weight Gain.

Reduce demands on your time and energy

Quitting smoking can be harder if you have a lot of work or family demands.

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.2

For more on using medicine, see Decision Points focus on key medical care decisions that are important to many health problems. Quitting Smoking: Should I Use Medicine?

Read how others manage

Many people try to quit smoking many times before they can stop for good.

Research shows that you'll be more successful if you get help. Here's how a few people finally managed to quit.

Michael

It 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

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 nicotine patches.

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 smoking.

Test Your Knowledge

  1. A lot of smokers light up when they're stressed. They say that a cigarette helps them relax. But taking a brisk walk or doing some other physical activity is a much healthier way to deal with stress.

    1. True

      This answer is correct.

      Exercise may help you reduce stress, mood swings, and your cravings for cigarettes. It may help you sleep better and feel less tense. It also may help keep you from gaining weight.

    2. False

      This answer is incorrect.

      Exercise may help you reduce stress, mood swings, and your cravings for cigarettes. It may help you sleep better and feel less tense. It also may help keep you from gaining weight.


Where? - Other resources and organizations that can help you take action.  Where do you go from here?

You've learned how to deal with the side effects of nicotine withdrawal. Quitting smoking is tough, so if you feel yourself slipping, be sure to ask for help.

References

Citations

  1. 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.

  2. Stead LF, et al. (2012). Nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (11).

Credits for Quitting Smoking: Coping With Cravings and Withdrawal

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer John Hughes, MD - Psychiatry
Last Revised August 15, 2013

Note: The "printer friendly" document will not contain all the information available in the online document. Some information (e.g. cross-references to other topics, definitions or medical illustrations) is only available in the online version.

© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.