An Overview of Quitting Smoking

If you want to know how to quit smoking, it is important to start by learning about the challenges you'll likely face and developing a plan to tackle them.

This article discusses the things that you'll need to know about how to quit smoking and some of the challenges you'll face. It also covers some of the tools and resources that can help you be more successful and reach your smoking cessation goals.

How to Quit Smoking

Does your mind bounce back and forth on the issue of smoking cessation? Or do you quit only to find yourself smoking again within days, or at most, a few weeks? Does smoking make you feel weak and powerless? Do you wonder if you'll ever find a way to quit smoking for good?

Statistics suggest that approximately 70% of America's 40 million smokers want to quit. Research also shows that 40% of ex-smokers have more than one quit attempt under their belts before stopping permanently.

Nicotine addiction is powerful and smoking cessation involves a lot of work for most people—it's not handed to us on a silver platter. But you can quit smoking successfully. And the good news is that thousands of people do just that every year. They've found their way out and enjoy a comfortable life free of thoughts of smoking.

Most of them believed at one time, just as you probably do, that they couldn't quit. How did they do it? While there is no magic bullet that makes smoking cessation easy and pain-free, there are steps you can take to quit smoking in a way that will bring you lasting success.

When You're Ready to Quit Smoking

If you are ready to start your quitting smoking journey, you should:

  • Learn more about smoking cessation including nicotine withdrawal symptoms
  • Find out more about smoking cessation medicines and products that can help
  • Check out resources that can support your efforts
  • Develop a quit smoking plan
  • Find social support

5 Things to Know When Quitting Smoking

Remembering these facts during your quit journey will help you understand that the difficulties you are facing are completely normal.

You Are Addicted to a Drug

Nicotine is a powerfully addictive drug that affects brain chemistry. People who smoke sometimes think of smoking as a bad habit that they can stop whenever they choose and are surprised to find that this is not the case when they try to quit.

It's Never Too Late to Quit

Years of smoking and the health problems that come with it can lead many to believe that smoking cessation won't be of any benefit and that the harm is already done. This is not true. Once you stop smoking, your body begins to heal itself. While not all smoking-related damage can be undone, much of it can be improved or arrested.

Thinking About Smoking Is Normal

Thoughts of smoking and feelings of loss and sadness are normal when you stop smoking. Every person addicted to nicotine will experience these symptoms of nicotine withdrawal to some extent, and they will pass eventually, as long as you don't smoke and start the whole cycle over.

Online Support Can Help

You might not be the kind of person who enjoys chatting in an online forum atmosphere, but you should still think of online smoking cessation support as a mandatory tool in your quit smoking toolbox. You do not have to actively participate to benefit from the experience and support of ex-smokers who are working together.

You Won't Miss Smoking Forever

Nicotine addiction is a powerful force. When you try to quit, it can be overwhelming to imagine not smoking ever again let alone living a life that is free of thoughts of smoking.

You can find relief with education and the willingness to change the relationship you have with cigarettes. Being free from your desire to smoke is possible and well worth the work it takes to achieve.

If you or a loved one are struggling with nicotine addiction, 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.

Cold Turkey vs. Quit Aids

Once you understand more about why you want to quit, you need to decide exactly how you want to go about quitting. There are two different approaches you might use.

First, you might decide to just quit smoking altogether, an approach referred to as quitting "cold turkey." It is the most difficult quit method, initially, in terms of nicotine withdrawal. However, for some people, it works.

If you think you fall into that category, using tips to help you cope with withdrawal symptoms and cravings can help you prepare for the ups and downs that will come during the first few weeks of quitting.

The other method involves gradually and progressively tapering your nicotine intake over a period of time using some type of quit aid. This can be done by using some type of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) that allows you to gradually lower your nicotine use without smoking.

Research suggests that gradually tapering your use and quitting cold turkey have about the same success rates. This means that you should pick the method that you think will work best for you.

2:08

Click Play to Learn About Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey

This video has been medically reviewed by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE.

Quit Smoking Aids

There are a variety of quit aids available today that minimize the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal or avoid them altogether. There is no shame in using an aid to help you stop smoking. In fact, doctors often recommend a combination of quit aids and counseling as the best approach to stop smoking.

Using smoking cessation medications alongside some type of reduction support can significantly increase your chances of quitting successfully. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), utilizing some type of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) doubles your chances of success.

There are a few different types of nicotine replacement products available:

  • Nicotine patches
  • Nicotine gum
  • Nicotine lozenges
  • Nicotine inhaler
  • Nicotine nasal spray

In addition to over-the-counter NRT products, there are also prescription quit aids that can help. There are two FDA-approved medications that your doctor may prescribe: Chantix (varenicline tartrate) or Zyban (bupropion hydrochloride). These medications can improve your chances of quitting when used in combination with an NRT product.

Research has also found that the most effective way to quit smoking is to combine a long-acting nicotine patch with a short-acting NRT product for a period of 12 weeks or longer. So, for example, using the patch along with a nicotine nasal spray, gum, or lozenge can be a highly effective approach.

Choosing a quit aid is largely a matter of personal preference, barring a medical condition that might make one or another a better fit for you. Have a discussion with a doctor or other healthcare professional about quit aids before you make a decision.

Recap

There are a variety of quit smoking aids available. These include over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products and prescription medications. Using these aids can significantly improve your chances of quitting smoking successfully.

Preparing to Quit

If you haven't done it yet, pick your quit date. Don't make it too far in the future because chances are you'll lose motivation before the date arrives. A good rule of thumb is to pick a date within two weeks of deciding to quit.

Once you have your date, start gathering supplies to have on hand for your quit and remove all smoking paraphernalia from around the house and car.

Some tools and resources that may help you become smoke-free include:

  • Quit smoking aids such as NRT products and prescription quit smoking medications
  • Healthy snacks and drinks such as herbal teas, popcorn, raw fruits and vegetables, sunflower seeds, sugar-free candy, and water
  • A notebook or journal to record your progress
  • An online or in-person smoking cessation support group
  • A social support system of friends, family, and others who can support your journey and progress
  • Quit smoking apps

It can also be helpful to start a quit journal and make your first entry the reasons why you want to quit smoking. Copy this list onto a single sheet of paper that you can fold and tuck into your purse or wallet to review when craving a cigarette. Add to your list as time goes by—think of it as a way to keep your memory green about how much smoking negatively impacted your life before you quit.

Recap

Preparing to quit can help set you up for success. Pick a date in the near future, gather the tools you'll need, and start a quit journal to help keep you motivated.

What to Expect After You Quit

Knowing what to expect when you decide to give up cigarettes is important. In the days, weeks, and months after you first quit smoking, you can expect a number of different events to happen.

Nicotine Withdrawal

Nicotine withdrawal will be your first challenge. Learn what to expect from it and how to manage the discomforts. Knowledge is key to overcoming this short but intense phase of smoking cessation.

Common signs and symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include:

  • Appetite changes
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Depressed mood
  • Irritability
  • Nicotine cravings
  • Problems concentrating
  • Sleep difficulties

Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal can last anywhere from a week to a month but are usually most intense during the first week after quitting. The severity and duration of these withdrawal symptoms depend on how long and how heavily you smoked prior to quitting.

Thinking About Giving Up

It is normal to try to rationalize continuing smoking when you are experiencing the unpleasant effects of nicotine withdrawal. It can be helpful to develop a conscious attention to what your mind is saying and the ability to change negative, self-defeating thoughts to ones that help you. These thoughts will fade to nothing in time if you do this.

Learn the art of distraction. Recovery from nicotine addiction is in large part an exercise in reprogramming your mind to expect something other than a cigarette to fill a gap. This takes work initially, but the mind listens and adapts quickly. You'll be surprised at how natural it becomes to not smoke once you get some practice.

Be patient and let time help you. Healing from nicotine addiction takes the better part of a year to achieve. This doesn't mean you'll be uncomfortable for a year, but it does take that long to reprogram the majority of associations people have with smoking.

Relax and let time help you. Every smoke-free day you complete is a step closer to the long-term success you're looking for.

Recap

There are many challenges when you quit smoking, including nicotine withdrawal. It can be unpleasant and may cause you to find ways to rationalize smoking. Learning how to cope with these symptoms and maintain your motivation can improve your chances of long-term success.

2:04

8 Tips For Quitting Smoking

Change Your Mind, Change Your Life

True freedom is a state of mind. You probably know people who quit smoking years ago and still lament that they miss cigarettes.

This is a scary thought for anyone trying to quit, but you needn't worry. Because the key to truly breaking the ties to smoking in a permanent way lies in changing your relationship with smoking.

Over the course of your years of smoking, you may have turned to cigarettes for comfort, companionship, stress relief, and more, learning to relate all of the events in your life to smoking. You may have thought of it as a solution rather than a problem and unconsciously adopted unhealthy and inaccurate beliefs instead of seeing smoking for what it really was—a need to feed an addiction.

Unraveling all of those false associations and replacing them with healthy ways of dealing with your life will start the ball rolling on changing the relationship you have with smoking.

Recap

In order to learn how to quit smoking, you also need to change your relationship with smoking. This involves developing new coping mechanisms that will help you find comfort and deal with stress without turning to cigarettes.

Facing the Health Risks

Another step in changing your mind about smoking involves seeking out information on the damage smoking causes. Even though you might know about the health risks, you may avoid reading about them or thinking about them.

Such health consequences include an increased risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Taking a close look at research, news, and statistics will help you make that shift away from being someone who smokes to someone who doesn't. Reminding yourself about the health benefits of smoking cessation can also help boost your motivation and commitment to quitting.

Summary

If you are wondering how to quit smoking, learning more about the process can help. Understanding the challenges, formulating a plan, using quit smoking aids, and finding ways to deal with withdrawal are all important parts of the process. By using effective tools and having strong social support through the process, you can improve your chances of quitting successfully.

A Word From Verywell

Most people who smoke are afraid to quit, but don't let fear paralyze you. Remember that this is unhelpful thinking caused by nicotine addiction and you've got the tools to deal with that now. Think about what you're really giving up when you quit smoking.

Smoking cessation will reward you with benefits far beyond what you can probably imagine, so be patient and do the work to heal your body and mind from the years of smoking. Make a pact with yourself to stick with it until smoking no longer registers on the radar. It may seem like a winding path at times, but you'll get there as long as you don't smoke. Believe in yourself. You've got this.

7 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. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health effects of cigarette smoking.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to quit smoking.

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  5. Ebbert JO, Hays JT, Hurt RD. Combination pharmacotherapy for stopping smoking: What advantages does it offer?Drugs. 2010;70(6):643–650. doi:10.2165/11536100-000000000-00000

  6. Rigotti NA. Strategies to help a smoker who is struggling to quitJAMA. 2012;308(15):1573-1580. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.13043

  7. Soulakova JN, Tang CY, Leonardo SA, Taliaferro LA. Motivational benefits of social support and behavioural interventions for smoking cessationJ Smok Cessat. 2018;13(4):216-226. doi:10.1017/jsc.2017.26

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