How to stop smoking: Dealing with cravings
What Causes Cravings
Places and activities can trigger cravings. If you used to smoke after meals or when you talked on the phone, these things might make you crave a cigarette.
How to Manage Cravings
You can expect to have cravings for a few weeks after you quit. The first 3 days will probably be the worst. As more time passes, your cravings should get less intense.
Thinking about how to resist cravings ahead of time can help you overcome them.
Make a list. Write down the reasons you are quitting. Post the list someplace visible so you can remind yourself of the good things about quitting. Your list might include things like:
- I will have more energy.
- I will not wake up coughing.
- My clothes and breath will smell better.
- The longer I do not smoke, the less I will crave cigarettes.
Make rules. You might find yourself thinking you can just smoke 1 cigarette. Any cigarette you smoke will tempt you to smoke more. Rules provide structure to help you keep saying no. Your rules might include:
- When I have a craving, I will wait at least 10 minutes to see if it passes.
- When I have a craving, I will walk up and down the stairs 5 times.
- When I have a craving, I will eat a carrot or celery stick.
Set up rewards. Plan rewards for each stage of quitting you get through. The longer you go without smoking, the bigger the reward. For instance:
- After 1 day of not smoking, reward yourself with a new book, DVD, or album.
- After 1 week, visit a place you have wanted to go for a long time like a park or museum.
- After 2 weeks, treat yourself to a new pair of shoes or tickets to a game.
Talk back to yourself. There might be times you think you have to have a cigarette to get through a stressful day. Give yourself a pep talk:
- Cravings are part of quitting, but I can get through it.
- Every day I go without smoking, quitting will get easier.
- I have done hard things before; I can do this.
Think about all the situations that make you want to smoke. When possible, avoid these situations. For example, you might need to avoid spending time with friends who smoke, going to bars, or attending parties for a while. Spend time in public places where smoking is not allowed. Try to do things you enjoy like going to a movie, shopping, or hanging out with non-smoking friends. This way you can start to associate not smoking with having fun.
Keep your hands and mouth busy as you get used to not handling cigarettes. You can:
- Hold a pen, stress ball, or rubber band
- Chop vegetables for snacking
- Knit or do a jigsaw puzzle
- Chew sugar-free gum
- Hold a straw or stir stick in your mouth
- Eat carrots, celery, or apple slices
PRACTICE NEW WAYS TO RELAX
Many people use smoking to relieve stress. Try new relaxation techniques to help calm yourself:
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it for 5 seconds, exhale slowly through your mouth. Try this a few times until you feel yourself relax.
- Listen to music.
- Read a book or listen to an audiobook.
- Try yoga, tai chi, or visualization.
Exercise has many benefits. Moving your body may help reduce cravings. It can also give you a feeling of wellbeing and calm.
If you only have only a little time, take a short break and walk up and down the stairs, jog in place, or do squats. If you have more time, go to the gym, take a walk, bike ride, or do something else active for 30 minutes or more.
When to Call the Doctor
If you do not think you can quit on your own, contact your health care provider. Nicotine replacement therapy may help you stave off cravings through the first and hardest stage of quitting.
American Cancer Society website. How to quit tobacco: help for cravings and tough situations while you are quitting tobacco.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Tips from former smokers.
George TP. Nicotine and tobacco. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 29.
Ussher MH, Faulkner GEJ, Angus K, Hartmann-Boyce J, Taylor AH. Exercise interventions for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019; (10): CD002295. PMID:3168491
Last reviewed on: 8/15/2022
Reviewed by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.