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.
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.
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
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.
When you try to quit smoking, you crave cigarettes.
You may feel grouchy and angry or have
trouble concentrating and dealing with stress.
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.
Continue to Why?
The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are your body's way of begging for
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
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
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.
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.
Continue to How?
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.
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.
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.
If you have trouble sleeping,
try these tips:
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.
smoking can be harder if you have a lot of work or family demands.
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?
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
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.
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.
Continue to Where?
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.
Return to topic:
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):
Stead LF, et al. (2012). Nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (11).
August 15, 2013
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& John Hughes, MD - Psychiatry
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