Depression Related to Quitting Smoking

How to Deal With the Temporary Mood Changes

Depression symptoms when you quit smoking

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee 

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Quitting smoking is difficult enough when you're feeling happy. Unfortunately, it can become further challenging due to mood changes—a common complaint early in smoking cessation. People who smoke are more likely to experience depression than non-smokers, and symptoms of depression often occur while quitting, often as part of nicotine withdrawal.

While people may experience depression after quitting smoking, research has also shown that quitting smoking may decrease depression in the long term.

Knowing what you may experience as you work to become smoke-free can better prepare you for the journey ahead.

Causes of Depression After Quitting Smoking

Nicotine withdrawal is the primary reason for the temporary depression you may experience after quitting smoking. When you use nicotine on a regular basis, your body and brain become dependent on it as the nicotine bonds with your brain receptors to trigger the release of dopamine, the "feel-good" neurotransmitter.

Once you stop smoking and are producing less dopamine than your body and mind have become accustomed to, it is normal to react with low moods and depressed feelings.

Lack of nicotine also means losing the "companion" that you thought helped you manage everything from anger to fatigue, which leaves most new ex-smokers feeling empty and adrift for a time. Luckily, for most, the condition is a byproduct of smoking cessation and is temporary.

Symptoms of Depression After Quitting Smoking

Some common symptoms of depression that you may experience when you stop smoking include:

  • Anxiety or an "empty" feeling
  • Changes in appetite (eating more or less)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Emotional irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Sadness
  • Sleeplessness

You may experience one, some, or all of these at one point or another and to varying degrees.

If you start to feel depressed after quitting tobacco and your low mood doesn't pass after a few weeks or gets worse, be sure to check in with your doctor for advice.

Mood changes with quitting smoking are common, but persistent depressive symptoms that worsen or interfere with your functioning may reflect a clinical depression that requires treatment.

Coping Techniques When Quitting Smoking

Quitting tobacco is a big change in lifestyle, and you should expect to react, to some degree, both emotionally and physically. You are also at an increased risk of suffering a smoking relapse during periods of the mood changes caused by smoking cessation. It is hard to stay focused and maintain the resolve to not smoke when you're feeling low.

Evidence suggests that people who experience depression before or during the early stages of quitting are at a higher risk of smoking relapse.

After years of smoking, it is possible that you began to bury your feelings behind a cloud of smoke. Cigarettes are used to deal with everything from anger to sadness to joy, causing smokers to often lean on tobacco to avoid difficult emotions.

It is healthy and productive to allow yourself to acknowledge those feelings and find constructive ways to deal with them, even if you feel a little raw from the experience. For mood changes that come with smoking cessation, try some of the following ideas to improve your mood:

Stay Active

Exercise can be a helpful distraction from the urge to smoke, and some research has shown that it can be helpful during the early stages of smoking cessation. Other research has found that exercise can be an effective intervention for preventing and treating symptoms of depression.

Get out for a quick walk. Fresh air is always invigorating, and exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which are known to improve mood.

Create Realistic Goals

Set goals, but don't bite off more than you can chew. Divide tasks related to your goals into small chunks you feel good about accomplishing.

Consider using the SMART goals technique. This involves setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. This approach can help you stick with your goals, maintain motivation, and achieve lasting results.

Stay Motivated

Find ways to stay motivated and inspired after you quit smoking. When negative/sad thoughts come up about smoking, remind yourself that you miss smoking mostly because it was an addiction, and once you're healed, you won't feel this way.

Find Distractions

Create a list of things you can do at a moment's notice when you're feeling the urge to smoke, like do a crossword puzzle or call a supportive friend. Jolting ourselves out of a negative thought pattern is often as simple as changing what we're doing.

Get Social Support

Spend time with people who make you feel good. Friends and family can be a great source of support while you are quitting, and spending time with others can help combat feelings of loneliness and depression.

Join a support group. Meeting people who are going through the same struggle as you can help you know you're not alone and offer some much-needed support. The American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking program has groups all over the country, or do some research to find other support programs in your local area.

While quitting smoking, the body and mind are transitioning, and it's not uncommon to struggle with emotions. Don't worry if you are close to tears one moment and angry or sad the next. The balance will return in time.

Adjust Your Perspective

One of the greatest challenges new ex-smokers face is an important change in perspective. It is that shift in thinking from seeing smoking cessation as an exercise in deprivation to realizing that it is, in fact, one of the best gifts you'll ever give yourself.

This is a crucial step in the process of healing from nicotine addiction, and it is with this transformation that many see their quitting-related symptoms of depression begin to lift.

Getting Help for Depression

If you have been diagnosed and treated for depression before quitting smoking, it is essential to let your doctor know ahead of time that you're planning to quit. Smoking cessation could make you susceptible to additional mood disturbances. 

Smoking also causes some medications to be metabolized more quickly, so when you quit, prescriptions you're already taking might need to be adjusted. Your doctor can monitor and correct dosages on any medications you might be on, if necessary.

Always be on alert for drastic mood changes and contact your doctor as soon as possible if anything out of the ordinary occurs.

A Word From Verywell

If the blues have come on since you quit smoking, remember that this is not uncommon. As you are patient through this likely temporary phase, find comfort from your friends, family, and keeping busy with healthier, more productive activities.

With time and dedication, these will become the more familiar sources of good feelings, and smoking will become the thing that you thought used to bring you benefit. You can also take comfort in knowing that millions of people have been through this process successfully before you, and many include it among the most rewarding experiences of their lives.

Happier days are ahead, and with them will come a tremendous sense of pride and empowerment from overcoming this addiction.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

6 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.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recognize signs of depression.

  2. Stepankova L, Kralikova E, Zvolska K, et al. Depression and smoking cessation: evidence from a smoking cessation clinic with 1-year follow-upAnn Behav Med. 2017;51(3):454-463. doi:10.1007/s12160-016-9869-6

  3. National Institutes of Mental Health. Depression.

  4. Santos CP, Proença M, Gouveia TDS, et al. Effectiveness of aerobic exercise on smoking cessation in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysisJ Phys Act Health. 2021;18(2):230-242. doi:10.1123/jpah.2019-0339

  5. Schuch FB, Stubbs B. The role of exercise in preventing and treating depressionCurr Sports Med Rep. 2019;18(8):299-304. doi:10.1249/JSR.0000000000000620

  6. Nelis SM, Thom JM, Jones IR, Hindle JV, Clare L. Goal-setting to promote a healthier lifestyle in later life: Qualitative evaluation of the AgeWell TrialClin Gerontol. 2018;41(4):335-345. doi:10.1080/07317115.2017.1416509

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