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Cravings and withdrawal when you stop smoking

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

You might experience some of these, but you probably won’t experience them all. Speak to your GP if you’re concerned about any symptoms.

Cravings

Cravings for nicotine can start 30 minutes after your last cigarette. This varies depending on how much you smoked and how long for. The cravings peak in 2 to 3 days and usually pass after 3 to 5 minutes. You should stop getting them altogether after 4 to 6 weeks. Deal with them by using the ‘4 Ds’:

Distract

Distract yourself by focusing on something else.

Delay

Delay doing anything about the craving until the urge passes.

Deep breaths

Take 20 deep breaths.

Drink water

Drink a cold glass of water or fruit juice.

You can also confuse cravings for food with cravings for nicotine and vice versa. It’s important to eat 3 regular meals each day.

Moods, irritability and anxiety

You may have low moods or increased irritability and anxiety when you give up smoking. These feelings are temporary and get better within about 4 weeks.

Here are some coping strategies:

  • deal with cravings rather than 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, like:

  • 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 or breathe out slowly, for longer than you breathe in.

Sleep pattern

This can take 2 to 3 weeks to settle. Try to reduce caffeine (tea, coffee, cola). Exercise can help too. Relax before bedtime with a book or a bath.

Energy levels

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

However, 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 will get better after 2 to 3 weeks.

Constipation

About 10% of people experience constipation when they give up smoking. It can take 2 to 3 weeks to get better. If this happens to you, you can deal with it by:

  • eating lots of fruit, fibre and vegetables
  • drinking lots of water
  • exercising every day

A pharmacist might also be able to 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 replace smoking with food, 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 well-balanced meals a day, with plenty of vegetables and fruit
  • keep low calorie snacks handy - like celery, carrot sticks or fruit
  • stick to water or low-calorie drinks (not sugary soft drinks)

Related topic

Get help when you quit smoking

page last reviewed: 25/03/2019
next review due: 25/03/2022

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