Quitting cigarette smoking cold turkey means cutting all nicotine products abruptly. Tips to help you quit include exercising, chewing gum, and changing your routine, among others.

There are two general approaches to quitting smoking:

  • Abrupt: This is the cold turkey method, which is when you stop using nicotine products in one shot.
  • Gradual: This is when you slowly decrease the amount you smoke over a period of time until you quit altogether.

Research is somewhat conflicting on which method is better.

However, a 2021 review that included 21,542 people in England found that people who quit smoking abruptly were more likely to remain abstinent than those who quit gradually.

In a 2019 meta-analysis with similar findings, the authors suggest that people who choose a gradual approach may lose motivation to quit over time.

Quitting cold turkey may seem daunting and might not be the right choice for everyone. However, given the damage smoking does to your body, getting it over and done with may have its appeal.

Read on to learn more about the process of quitting smoking cold turkey and tips to help you.

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Your body will begin to reap the health benefits of quitting smoking within 20 minutes of your last cigarette.

However, you may not feel like it right away.

When your body develops a dependence on a substance like nicotine, you may experience physical and emotional symptoms when you stop using it regularly. This is known as withdrawal.

Symptoms may include:

As uncomfortable as these may be, nicotine withdrawal is totally normal. It typically isn’t dangerous for your health.

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.
  • Find an activity to keep you engaged during downtime, such as reading or watching a show.
  • Have cough lozenges and over-the-counter (OTC) 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.

Triggers are things that make you want to smoke. Identifying these can help you quit smoking cold turkey.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), triggers fall into one of three categories:

  • pattern
  • emotional
  • social

Pattern triggers

A pattern trigger is an activity or habit 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
  • driving

If you’re used to having a cigarette during an activity, you need to break the association between the two.

Instead of smoking, you can try:

  • replacing a cigarette with chewing gum or hard candy
  • keeping your hand busy by squeezing a stress ball or writing in a journal
  • changing your routine, such as having coffee at a different time

Emotional triggers

Intense emotions commonly trigger the desire to smoke. These may include:

The key to overcoming emotional triggers is to find healthier ways to cope with your feelings.

Instead of smoking, you can try:

Social triggers

Social triggers are social occasions that usually include other smokers, including:

  • 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’re quitting. Ask them not to smoke around you while you’re trying to quit.

Eventually, being around people who are smoking will get easier.

Other triggers

The longer you’ve smoked, the more used to getting nicotine on a regular basis your body will be.

Other common triggers may 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

The best way to deal with these 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 need extra help, speak with a doctor about other options.

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, while others may prefer to quit gradually.

Other ways to help you quit smoking include:

Keep in mind that NRT products may prolong nicotine addiction in some people. Follow the product’s directions closely for the best outcome.

Is it OK to quit smoking cold turkey?

Yes, it’s OK to quit smoking cold turkey. However, quitting cold turkey may be harder and the symptoms of withdrawal can be more severe at first.

How long does nicotine withdrawal last cold turkey?

Withdrawal symptoms are temporary. According to the NCI, the worst symptoms last for 1 week, peaking at 3 days. Then, they get better over the first month. That said, withdrawal symptoms and their severity can differ for each individual and may change each day.

Is it better to slowly quit smoking or cold turkey?

Research on whether it’s better to quit smoking gradually or cold turkey is mixed. However, a 2021 review of over 21,500 people who smoke suggests that people who quit abruptly are more likely to remain abstinent.

Quitting smoking cold turkey isn’t for everyone. The withdrawal symptoms can be intense, especially if you’ve smoked for a long time.

However, with some preparation and determination, quitting smoking this way might help your health improve more quickly and increase your chances of remaining abstinent.

It’s important to let other people know of your decision to quit. This can allow them to better help you on your smoking cessation journey.