How to manage cravings and withdrawal when you quit smoking
Quitting smoking might be a struggle, but the good news is that the challenges won’t last forever and there are ways to get through it. If you’re trying to quit smoking, congratulations on taking a huge step towards better health! You’re joining more than half of U.S. adult smokers who have attempted to quit smoking in the past year.
But between the withdrawal symptoms and cravings, not to mention the smoking triggers that can hit you by surprise, quitting smoking is not easy and relapses are common.
Luckily, there’s tons of support and advice for how to deal with these challenges, and many people have succeeded in quitting completely. In fact, in 2018, the CDC reported that 61.7% of adults who had ever smoked had quit. By knowing what to expect, managing your stress and finding ways to distract yourself when cravings hit, you can be one of them.
When you quit smoking, be prepared for withdrawal symptoms. For many smokers, their bodies become physically addicted to nicotine. When you quit, your body has to adjust to not having nicotine in its system, leading to symptoms like cravings, sadness or depression, weight gain, restlessness or fatigue. Cravings are one of the most common symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms can last a few days to a few weeks after you quit smoking, and they’re strongest in the first week, making it easier to relapse. If you’ve just started your smoke-free journey, knowing what to expect can help you deal with withdrawal as you can come up with a plan before the symptoms or cravings hit. Here’s what you can do.
Recognize your smoking triggers so you can avoid them. There are withdrawal, social, pattern and emotional triggers. Cravings are just one example of withdrawal triggers. You can stay one step ahead of your cravings by keeping track of when they occur, what you were doing and how you were feeling. That way, you can look back at your craving journal to identify when and why your cravings occur. You may find that there’s a social, pattern or emotional trigger at play.
Social triggers happen when you’re around other people who are smoking. Pattern triggers come from activities and routines connected with smoking, such as talking on the phone, drinking, or taking a work break.
To avoid social and pattern triggers, try switching up your routine. If you’re around people who are smoking, go to a smoke-free zone. If you find yourself reaching for a cigarette after a meal, or during your work break when you’d usually smoke, find a replacement activity. It can be as simple as chewing gum or candy, sipping from a straw, or finding something to keep your hands busy, like knitting.
When cravings hit, stop what you’re doing and try doing something else to change your routine. If you’re inside, try going outside. If you usually drink coffee in the morning then follow it with a smoke, try drinking coffee at another time of day. Anything that switches up your routine can help because you’ll be moving away from the familiar routine of smoking.
Emotions can also trigger cravings. Many people smoke in response to stressful situations. After you quit, it makes sense that experiencing stress or other intense, negative emotions can be a potential trigger.
Finding ways to manage your stress can help you quit smoking. Smoking may relieve stress in the moment, but it isn’t a long-term solution. Finding alternative, healthy coping mechanisms can help you avoid smoking while benefiting your overall health.
When you’re feeling stressed, try talking through your feelings with someone you trust, like a family member, a friend or a professional therapist. Take some deep breaths too. This slows your breathing and centers your mind. Find something that you enjoy doing. Listen to music, practice self care, or exercise. Doing these things will make you feel good, reduce stress and can be a welcome distraction from your smoking cravings.
Be patient with yourself if you relapse. Relapses are common, but having a relapse doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. It’s most important that you be patient with yourself and try again. Reflect on what made you slip up. Was there some sort of trigger? What can you do differently to avoid that situation next time? How have you overcome cravings in the past?
It can also help to remember why you quit smoking in the first place and how beneficial it will be to your health. Quitting smoking can lower your risk of heart attack, stroke, and lung cancer.
Finally, seek support. Let your family and friends know that you’re trying to quit so they can support and hold you accountable. There are also apps, support groups and social media pages dedicated to helping people quit smoking. Our providers here at Alpha can also help you develop a plan for quitting, which may involve prescription medication and some form of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). We’ll work with you to figure out what sort of treatment is best. Get started today!