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Cravings and withdrawal when you stop smoking

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Most people experience some nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms when they give up smoking. These can be uncomfortable, but they are temporary - most symptoms stop after a month.

You may experience some of these symptoms, but you probably won’t experience them all.

If you’re concerned about any symptoms, talk to:

  • your GP
  • a stop smoking advisor - they can give you information and advice on how to stop smoking

Cravings

The cravings you have depend on how often you smoked and how long you were a smoker.

Cravings for nicotine can start 30 minutes after your last cigarette. Individual cravings usually pass in 3 to 5 minutes.

You may get the most cravings 2 to 3 days after you stop smoking. You should stop getting cravings 4 to 6 weeks after you stop smoking.

Deal with cravings by using the ‘4 Ds’:

Distract

Distract yourself by focusing on something else.

Delay

Delay doing anything about the craving until it passes.

Deep breaths

Take 20 deep breaths.

Drink water

Drink a cold glass of water or fruit juice.

Moods, irritability and anxiety

When you give up smoking, you may:

  • have low moods
  • feel more irritable and anxious

These feelings are temporary and get better within about 4 weeks.

Here are some coping strategies:

  • Deal with cravings using the 4 Ds instead of reaching for a cigarette.
  • Remind yourself that these feelings are temporary - they’ll go away.
  • Congratulate yourself for coping with life without smoking.
  • Ask others to understand and be patient.
  • Do things that make you feel good.

You can also relax and reduce stress with activities you enjoy, such as:

  • physical activities like walking, jogging, dancing, cycling or swimming - these can really help
  • listening to music, reading, sewing, doing jigsaws or gardening
  • relaxation and deep breathing exercises - for example, take 20 deep breaths

Find more relaxation tips

Headaches

Nicotine withdrawal when you stop smoking can cause headaches. They usually stop within 3 to 4 weeks.

To help reduce headaches, you can

Talk to your GP if you have:

  • severe headaches that do not stop
  • headaches with other symptoms that worry you

Sleep problems

You may have sleep problems after stopping smoking. These usually stop after 2 to 3 weeks.

To improve your sleep you can try to:

  • reduce caffeine, such as tea, coffee or cola
  • do physical activity during the day
  • relax before bedtime with a book or a bath

Tips for better sleeping

Energy levels

Your energy might increase after you stop smoking. This is because more oxygen is getting into your bloodstream as the carbon monoxide has left your body.

But some people find they have less energy for a while. This is because the body stops producing adrenaline in response to nicotine. It's temporary and improves after 2 to 3 weeks.

Constipation and nausea

About 1 in 10 people get constipation when they give up smoking. It can take 2 to 3 weeks to get better. Constipation can happen with nausea. Some people can have nausea without constipation.

Changes to your diet and lifestyle can help, such as:

  • eating lots of fruit, fibre and vegetables
  • drinking lots of water
  • doing physical activity every day

A pharmacist can recommend treatments to ease the problem.

Weight gain

Most smokers worry that giving up smoking will make them gain weight. It can happen if you confuse cravings for nicotine with cravings for food and replace smoking with snacking. But you can avoid gaining any weight if you eat sensibly and get more active.

If you’re worried about weight gain:

  • remember that stopping smoking is the most important thing you can do for your health
  • eat 3 balanced meals a day, with plenty of vegetables and fruit
  • keep healthy snacks handy - such as celery, carrot sticks or fruit
  • drink water or low-calorie drinks and avoid sugary soft drinks

Advice on healthy eating

Advice on exercise

page last reviewed: 05/10/2022
next review due: 05/10/2025

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