Quitting cigarette smoking can be difficult no matter how you do it, but the idea of quitting cold turkey can seem especially daunting.
It may not be the right choice for everyone, but given the damage smoking has on the body, getting it over and done with does have its appeal.
Smoking significantly increases your risk for disease, including several cancers. Every year smoking causes 1 out of 5 deaths in the United States, estimates the American Cancer Society.
There are many nicotine products available to help you wean off nicotine, but the cold turkey method means cutting all nicotine full-stop. Some evidence also suggests quitting abruptly instead of gradually increases your chances of stopping for good.
Let’s take a look at the process of quitting cold turkey and tips to help you do it as well as its pros and cons.
Your body will begin to reap the health benefits of quitting smoking within 20 minutes of your last cigarette. Withdrawal symptoms can make it feel otherwise, though. Many people feel like they have the flu when quitting smoking.
Nicotine is highly addictive. Research suggests it may be as addictive as cocaine, heroin, and alcohol.
The good news is that withdrawal symptoms are temporary. The worst symptoms usually improve in a few days to a couple of weeks.
Here are some common nicotine withdrawal symptoms:
- intense cravings for cigarettes
- feeling down
- difficulty sleeping
- trouble concentrating
- increased appetite
- cough or sore throat
- changes in bowel habits
Withdrawal symptoms and their severity can differ from person to person and change from day to day. As uncomfortable as they can be, nicotine withdrawal typically isn’t dangerous for your health.
Remember that symptoms are only temporary. The longer you go without nicotine, the easier it will get.
It won’t be easy, but quitting cold turkey significantly increases your chances of abstaining from smoking in the long run as opposed to quitting gradually, suggests a 2016 study involving 697 smokers.
Here are some tips to help you quit.
You’re going to have cravings. You’re probably going to feel lousy at least for a few days, too. This is totally normal. You can help make the withdrawal phase easier by being prepared.
Here are some tips to help this phase pass as smoothly as possible:
- Schedule workout classes or other activities to keep your mind off your cravings.
- Have healthy snacks on hand. Consider foods that keep your mouth busy, like carrots, pretzels, and apples.
- Buy a new book or choose a new show to binge-watch — anything to keep you engaged during downtime.
- Have cough lozenges and over-the-counter medication on hand for nausea, cough, and other flu-like symptoms you may experience.
- Make plans with friends and family. The more support the better.
- Replace smoking with another habit or simple activity.
Free support to quit smoking For extra help or expert advice on quitting smoking:
Identifying your triggers is another important step that can prepare you for successful cessation.
Triggers are things that make you want to smoke. Triggers generally fall into one of four categories:
A pattern trigger is an activity you associate with smoking. Some common ones include:
- drinking alcohol or coffee
- watching TV
- talking on the phone
- after sex
- work breaks
- finishing a meal
If you’re used to having a cigarette during any of these activities, you need to break the association between the two.
Instead of smoking, you can:
- Replace a cigarette with chewing gum or hard candy.
- Keep your hand busy by squeezing a stress ball or writing in a journal.
- Change your routine. Have coffee at a different time or brush your teeth right after you eat.
Intense emotions commonly trigger the desire to smoke. You may be accustomed to smoking when you’re feeling stressed as an escape for negative feelings.
For some people, smoking is an enhancement of a good mood when they’re feeling excited or happy. Feelings that may trigger a craving include:
The key to overcoming emotional triggers is finding healthier ways to cope with your feelings.
Instead of smoking, you can:
- Talk to someone about what’s bothering you, or share your excitement with a friend or loved one.
- Talk to a professional, such as a therapist.
- Get support and connect with experts and others who are quitting smoking from sites such as Smokefree.gov or Quitter’s Circle.
- Get some exercise to relieve stress and anxiety and improve your mood.
- Try relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga, or listening to calming music.
Social triggers are social occasions that usually include other smokers, such as:
- parties and social gatherings
- bars and nightclubs
- being around other people who smoke
The best way to deal with social triggers is to avoid them for a while. Avoid being around other people who smoke, too.
This can be very difficult if you have close friends and family who smoke. Let them know you have to quit. Ask them not to smoke around you while you’re trying to quit. Eventually, being around people who are smoking will get easier.
The longer you’ve smoked, the more used to getting nicotine on a regular basis your body will be. This will affect the frequency and severity of your withdrawal symptoms. Common withdrawal triggers include:
- smelling cigarette smoke
- craving the taste or feeling of cigarettes
- handling cigarettes, lighters, and matches
- feeling like you need something to do with your hands
- other withdrawal symptoms
The best way to deal with withdrawal triggers is to distract yourself from the cravings.
Begin by throwing away your cigarettes and anything related to smoking, like ashtrays. As soon as you feel the urge to smoke, find something to do or someone to talk to.
If your withdrawal is triggering cravings that are overwhelming and you feel you need extra help, speak to your doctor about your options.
The benefits of quitting smoking, regardless of how you do it, are endless. Quitting cold turkey, like other methods, has its pros and cons.
- You may increase your chances at lasting abstinence from smoking.
- Withdrawal symptoms usually peak within the first 7 days of cessation. Quitting cold turkey gets you over the hump faster compared to cutting back on nicotine gradually.
- Your body will begin to benefit from being nicotine-free sooner rather than later.
- Your withdrawal symptoms may be more intense than with gradual cessation, though this is temporary.
- It’s not easy and requires a lot of willpower, especially if you’ve smoked for a long time.
There’s no single method to quit smoking that’s right for everyone. Some people prefer to deal with acute withdrawal symptoms for a shorter period by stopping cold turkey. Others may prefer to quit gradually and deal with milder symptoms for a longer period.
If an abrupt stop isn’t for you, you can look into other ways to quit, such as:
- medication therapy, including varenicline (Chantix) and bupropion (Zyban, Wellbutrin)
- counseling or therapy
- quit smoking apps
- nicotine replacement therapy, such as nicotine gum, patches, lozenges, or inhaler
Keep in mind nicotine replacement therapy products may prolong nicotine addiction.
Quitting cold turkey isn’t for everyone. The withdrawal symptoms can be intense, especially if you’ve smoked for a long time. With some preparation and determination, though, quitting smoking this way means your health begins to improve sooner rather than later.
Stopping smoking is the best way to keep your lungs healthy. But it’s not just about your lungs. Nicotine affects every system in your body. Once you get nicotine out of your system, you’ll feel better overall and lower your risk of heart and lung diseases as well as certain cancers.
Quit smoking today. You can do it!