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How to stop smoking: Dealing with cravings

A craving is a strong, distracting urge to smoke. Cravings are strongest when you first quit.

What Causes Cravings

When you first quit smoking, your body will go through nicotine withdrawal. You may feel tired, moody, and have headaches. In the past, you may have coped with these feelings by smoking a cigarette.

Places and activities can trigger cravings. If you used to smoke after meals or when you talked on the phone, these things might make you crave a cigarette.

How to Manage Cravings

You can expect to have cravings for a few weeks after you quit. The first 3 days will probably be the worst. As more time passes, your cravings should get less intense.

PLAN AHEAD

Thinking about how to resist cravings ahead of time can help you overcome them.

Make a list. Write down the reasons you are quitting. Post the list someplace visible so you can remind yourself of the good things about quitting. Your list might include things like:

  • I will have more energy.
  • I will not wake up coughing.
  • My clothes and breath will smell better.
  • The longer I do not smoke, the less I will crave cigarettes.

Make rules. You might find yourself thinking you can just smoke 1 cigarette. Any cigarette you smoke will tempt you to smoke more. Rules provide structure to help you keep saying no. Your rules might include:

  • When I have a craving, I will wait at least 10 minutes to see if it passes.
  • When I have a craving, I will walk up and down the stairs 5 times.
  • When I have a craving, I will eat a carrot or celery stick.

Set up rewards. Plan rewards for each stage of quitting you get through. The longer you go without smoking, the bigger the reward. For instance:

  • After 1 day of not smoking, reward yourself with a new book, DVD, or album.
  • After 1 week, visit a place you have wanted to go for a long time like a park or museum.
  • After 2 weeks, treat yourself to a new pair of shoes or tickets to a game.

Talk back to yourself. There might be times you think you have to have a cigarette to get through a stressful day. Give yourself a pep talk:

  • Cravings are part of quitting, but I can get through it.
  • Every day I go without smoking, quitting will get easier.
  • I have done hard things before; I can do this.

AVOID TEMPTATION

Think about all the situations that make you want to smoke. When possible, avoid these situations. For example, you might need to avoid spending time with friends who smoke, going to bars, or attending parties for a while. Spend time in public places where smoking is not allowed. Try to do things you enjoy like going to a movie, shopping, or hanging out with non-smoking friends. This way you can start to associate not smoking with having fun.

DISTRACT YOURSELF

Keep your hands and mouth busy as you get used to not handling cigarettes. You can:

  • Hold a pen, stress ball, or rubber band
  • Chop vegetables for snacking
  • Knit or do a jigsaw puzzle
  • Chew sugar-free gum
  • Hold a straw or stir stick in your mouth
  • Eat carrots, celery, or apple slices

PRACTICE NEW WAYS TO RELAX

Many people use smoking to relieve stress. Try new relaxation techniques to help calm yourself:

  • Take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it for 5 seconds, exhale slowly through your mouth. Try this a few times until you feel yourself relax.
  • Listen to music.
  • Read a book or listen to an audiobook.
  • Try yoga, tai chi, or visualization.

EXERCISE

Exercise has many benefits. Moving your body may help reduce cravings. It can also give you a feeling of wellbeing and calm.

If you only have only a little time, take a short break and walk up and down the stairs, jog in place, or do squats. If you have more time, go to the gym, take a walk, bike ride, or do something else active for 30 minutes or more.

When to Call the Doctor

If you do not think you can quit on your own, call your health care provider. Nicotine replacement therapy may help you stave off cravings through the first and hardest stage of quitting.

References

American Cancer Society website. Quitting smoking: help for cravings and tough situations. www.cancer.org/healthy/stay-away-from-tobacco/guide-quitting-smoking/quitting-smoking-help-for-cravings-and-tough-situations.html. Updated October 31, 2019. Accessed October 26, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Tips from former smokers. www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/index.html. Updated July 27, 2020. Accessed October 26, 2020.

George TP. Nicotine and tobacco. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 29.

Ussher MH, Faulkner GEJ, Angus K, Hartmann-Boyce J, Taylor AH. Exercise interventions for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019; (10): CD002295. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002295.pub6.

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  • Smoking tips to quit

    Animation

  •  

    Smoking tips to quit - Animation

    You probably know by now that smoking damages your lungs, raising your risk for bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer. And, you're probably well aware that lighting up also puts you at risk for many different types of cancers, as well as eye disease like cataracts and premature wrinkles, you know why you shouldn't smoke, it's just the quitting part you can't seem to get past. Let's talk about some helpful tips to help you quit smoking, for good this time. It's a familiar story, one that plays out over and over again among smokers. You vow to quit, and you have every intention of doing it, and then the cravings hit. And you can't think about anything but having a cigarette. You get irritable, and you start putting on weight. You think, Just one cigarette wouldn't hurt, would it? And then, before you know it, you're smoking again. Most smokers have tried to quit, and failed, several times. Even if you've failed before, you can still succeed at quitting. Many people have. You just need to find the technique that works for you. So, here are a few tips that can help. First, set a quit date. Write it down on your calendar and tell a few friends, so you'll be too embarrassed to back out. Before your quit date, throw out every cigarette in your house, car, and office. Also toss every ashtray, lighter, and anything else you need to smoke. Wash your clothes and clean your furniture so you won't have that smoky smell hanging around your house. Next, call your doctor. Ask about smoking cessation programs in your area. Also learn about tools that can help you quit, like medicines that reduce the urge to smoke, and nicotine replacement gums, lozenges, patches, and sprays. And then, plan what you'll do instead of smoking. If you smoke with your morning cup of coffee, drink tea or go for a walk instead. If you need a cigarette to keep your mouth busy, try chewing sugarless gum or nibble on a carrot stick. Stick to places where smoking isn't allowed, like smoke-free restaurants. And finally, reward yourself for not smoking. Put all that money that you would have spent on cigarettes into a jar. And once you've collected enough money, use it to take a trip or buy something you've wanted for a long time. Don't get discouraged. Quitting smoking isn't easy. If it were, everyone would have done it by now. Be persistent, reward yourself for the progress you've made, and keep at it until you finally conquer the urge to smoke.

  • Smoking tips to quit

    Animation

  •  

    Smoking tips to quit - Animation

    You probably know by now that smoking damages your lungs, raising your risk for bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer. And, you're probably well aware that lighting up also puts you at risk for many different types of cancers, as well as eye disease like cataracts and premature wrinkles, you know why you shouldn't smoke, it's just the quitting part you can't seem to get past. Let's talk about some helpful tips to help you quit smoking, for good this time. It's a familiar story, one that plays out over and over again among smokers. You vow to quit, and you have every intention of doing it, and then the cravings hit. And you can't think about anything but having a cigarette. You get irritable, and you start putting on weight. You think, Just one cigarette wouldn't hurt, would it? And then, before you know it, you're smoking again. Most smokers have tried to quit, and failed, several times. Even if you've failed before, you can still succeed at quitting. Many people have. You just need to find the technique that works for you. So, here are a few tips that can help. First, set a quit date. Write it down on your calendar and tell a few friends, so you'll be too embarrassed to back out. Before your quit date, throw out every cigarette in your house, car, and office. Also toss every ashtray, lighter, and anything else you need to smoke. Wash your clothes and clean your furniture so you won't have that smoky smell hanging around your house. Next, call your doctor. Ask about smoking cessation programs in your area. Also learn about tools that can help you quit, like medicines that reduce the urge to smoke, and nicotine replacement gums, lozenges, patches, and sprays. And then, plan what you'll do instead of smoking. If you smoke with your morning cup of coffee, drink tea or go for a walk instead. If you need a cigarette to keep your mouth busy, try chewing sugarless gum or nibble on a carrot stick. Stick to places where smoking isn't allowed, like smoke-free restaurants. And finally, reward yourself for not smoking. Put all that money that you would have spent on cigarettes into a jar. And once you've collected enough money, use it to take a trip or buy something you've wanted for a long time. Don't get discouraged. Quitting smoking isn't easy. If it were, everyone would have done it by now. Be persistent, reward yourself for the progress you've made, and keep at it until you finally conquer the urge to smoke.

    Self Care

     
     

    Review Date: 8/13/2020

    Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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