An Overview of What to Expect After You Quit Smoking

Most smokers underestimate smoking cessation the first time they quit smoking. We often think that it is simply a matter of not smoking until we don't miss it anymore, and while abstinence is certainly mandatory for success, there is much more to it than that.

The information below will give you a head start on learning about what is involved when you stop smoking. Don't fear what is ahead. Stub out your last cigarette and get started.

Things to Know After You Quit

Your body begins to heal within minutes of your last cigarette. The human body is amazingly resilient, and within just 20 minutes of the last cigarette smoked, physical healing begins. The benefits continue to grow for years as well.

Medications you take might be affected by smoking cessation. A number of medications are metabolized more quickly by smokers, so the dose you receive might be higher than it would be for a non-smoker. When you stop smoking, that higher dose could cause trouble, so check in with your doctor before you quit to review any prescription medicines you take.

Recovery from nicotine addiction is a process, not an event. In other words, discard any preconceived notions you might have about smoking cessation. Relax and adopt the attitude that it takes as long as it takes, which is unique to each person. Give yourself the time and space you need to heal fully.

Cravings to smoke are not commands. Smoking urges are going to surface often early on in smoking cessation and less often later on when an activity or feeling triggers a response to smoke. This is part of recovery from nicotine addiction. Expect it and know that the urge for a cigarette is not a sign that relapse is inevitable. A craving is not a command to smoke. 

You're going to feel like you're wearing an ill-fitting suit (made of scratchy wool) for a while. The act of smoking becomes thoroughly intertwined with everything we do in life, from waking up in the morning to turning in at night.

We used cigarettes to deal with every emotion and event in our lives. When we quit, nothing feels normal, but be patient. Old associations will gradually be replaced with new, healthy connections. Time and practice make the task doable and life normal once again.

Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal 

Nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes and is why it can be so hard to stop smoking when you're ready. It affects the mind and the body, so expect to feel withdrawal both physically and emotionally. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Constipation: A common but not often discussed side effect of smoking cessation involves our digestive system. Use the tips in this article to help you manage this uncomfortable symptom of nicotine withdrawal.
  • Coughing: It can be alarming to develop a cough after you stop smoking, but it is not uncommon. Take a look at why this happens and how to evaluate whether the cough might be more serious than a symptom of nicotine withdrawal.
  • Dizziness: Some new ex-smokers feel lightheaded/dizzy when they quit smoking. Learn why this happens and what you can do if you experience this symptom of nicotine withdrawal.
  • Junkie thinking: Junkie thinking is that inner voice that tells us it's alright to smoke just one cigarette or just for tonight. While it is difficult to manage, junkie thinking is a phase that will pass with time, as long as you don't smoke.
  • Sleep disturbances: From insomnia to feelings of lethargy that leave you wanting to spend the whole day in bed, quitting tobacco can throw your normal sleep pattern out of whack.
  • Stress: While smoking cessation will eventually allow you to reduce the stress in your life considerably, initially it increases stress. You can minimize the effects of cessation-related stress with these tips.
  • Urge to smoke: Prepare for the inevitable urges to smoke that happen early on for all ex-smokers and you'll find you can successfully manage this intense (but temporary) phase of recovery from nicotine addiction.
  • Urge to snack: Perhaps one of the most common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal—the urge to eat—is due, in part, to chemical changes taking place in the body, along with a psychological need to replace the hand-to-mouth action of smoking.

Nicotine and Mind Games

When nicotine enters the brain from the bloodstream, it docks at receptor sites, which causes a hormone called dopamine to be released. This chemical reaction creates a rush of good feelings for the smoker. Dopamine is thought to play a major role in the addictive process.

As smokers, we come to expect this dopamine rush many times a day, and when it's removed, our minds will work overtime to try to convince us that what we need to do is light up a cigarette now—right now.

For most new ex-smokers, this inner dialogue is a constant companion for the first several days of smoking cessation. It's not pleasant, but it is normal. If you can distract yourself and refrain from smoking, it will be easier to weather until it eases up and eventually disappears.

Healing Isn't a Straight Line

This is an important piece of information to hold close as you move through the first year of smoking cessation. Nicotine addiction lets go of us in stages, and because much of the healing takes place on a mental level, thoughts can trigger feelings that cause smoking urges to bubble up months into the process.

We worry that we're losing ground with our quit program or that we'll always miss smoking when this happens, but neither is true.  

Think of the ups and downs you're feeling as a necessary part of the process. A bad day where you miss smoking but don't light up is still moving you forward. With time, your days will be less about missing smoking and more about enjoying the freedom that smoking cessation returns to you.

Expect Benefits to Unfold

Most smokers expect to feel physically better and have more money in their pockets, but the positive aspects of overcoming addiction will reach into more nooks and crannies of your life than you can probably imagine. Some benefits will show up soon after quitting, and others will unfold in time. Your new smoke-free life will make you wonder why you waited so long to quit.

A Word From Verywell

The best thing you can do for yourself is to prepare for your smoke-free journey by learning what lies ahead. Yes, it is challenging, but with knowledge and tools to help you manage, smoking cessation is not only doable, but it could also well become one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. 

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Schaffer SD, Yoon S, Zadezensky I. A review of smoking cessation: potentially risky effects on prescribed medications. J Clin Nurs. 2009;18(11):1533-40. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2008.02724.x

  3. Benowitz NL. Pharmacology of nicotine: addiction, smoking-induced disease, and therapeuticsAnnu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 2009;49:57–71. doi:10.1146/annurev.pharmtox.48.113006.094742

  4. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th edition. Washington DC; 2013.

  5. National Cancer Institute. Cravings & Triggers.

By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.