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Quitting Smoking: Coping With Cravings and Withdrawal

Table of Contents


Introduction

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.


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 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 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.


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

Current as of: March 12, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo, MD - Internal Medicine
Christine R. Maldonado, PhD - Behavioral Health


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