How to Quit Smoking Cold Turkey

Preparing for nicotine withdrawal and cravings

Never too late to stop smoking: old man breaks cigarette
Don Bayley / Getty Images

Many people decide to go "cold turkey" when quitting smoking—that is, they stop smoking all at once without medication or nicotine replacement products. Quitting this way isn’t easy. While it might work for some people, it's not the most effective method of smoking cessation. Those who are most successful in quitting smoking cold turkey know what to expect and prepare themselves for withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

People choose to go cold turkey for different reasons, but one is the desire for a clean break from their smoking habit. Even when people are highly motivated to quit, it can still be challenging to overcome an addiction and let their body heal.

If you are ready to quit smoking or using tobacco (including chewing, e-cigarettes, or snuff) and want to go cold turkey, start by setting a quit date. The following steps will help prepare you for a successful attempt at quitting smoking. While it might not be your first attempt, it will hopefully be your last.

If you are thinking about quitting, make an appointment with your health care provider to discuss your current smoking habits. They can help you find the best quit-smoking plan for your personality, health history, and lifestyle.

What to Try Before Quitting Cold-Turkey

If you're worried that quitting cold turkey might be too difficult for you to start, here are some alternatives you can try prior to quitting cold turkey:

  • Write down each cigarette you smoke
  • Switch to a less desirable or less tasty cigarette brand
  • Smoke a cigarette halfway or not as hard
  • Take less strong drags off of a cigarette
  • Count to 60 before lighting up a cigarette

All of these strategies can help reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke and can make quitting cold turkey easier if you choose to do so.

When You Decide to Go Cold-Turkey

To go cold turkey, you will need to mentally prepare for distorted thinking—that is, the many thoughts and rationalizations that can derail your quit-smoking plan (e.g., "Just one drag won't hurt!").

Jot down the reasons (big and small) why you decided to quit. Write them on a piece of paper that you can carry with you or use a smartphone app. That way, you can easily access the list when a distorted thought comes up.


Click Play to Learn About Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey

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

Prepare for Nicotine Withdrawal

Nicotine is highly addictive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the substance rivals cocaine, alcohol, and heroin in terms of addiction. As with other drugs, you will likely experience side effects as your body rids itself of the harsh toxins and chemicals found in cigarettes.

This is one reason it's hard to quit cold turkey. Nicotine withdrawal can be more intense when you abruptly stop smoking. That is why it is worth a try to cut down the amount of smoking before you quit cold turkey—the nicotine withdrawal will be less intense. 

Common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include:

If you expect these symptoms, you'll be able to prepare. For example, ask a friend to watch your kids if you are feeling unwell, keep a water bottle with you and sip frequently to stay hydrated, stock up on throat lozenges, and fill your refrigerator with healthy snacks to reach for when hunger strikes.

Avoid Temptation

When you're ready to quit smoking, one of the first things you can do is gather and throw out all smoking paraphernalia (lights, matches, ashtrays, etc.) from your home (inside and outside) and car.

You’ll also want to let any of your "smoking buddies" know that you won’t be joining them on smoke breaks, for happy hour, or any other situation or place that could be a trigger for you. You can also take the opportunity to encourage your tobacco-using friends to quit.

Seek Out Support

As with nicotine withdrawal, it will be easier to manage the psychological urges that come with quitting if you make a plan. It can help just to know that these urges will pass—sometimes within moments. You'll also want to reach out to your family and friends. Let them help motivate and encourage you to stick with your stop-smoking plan.

An online support forum can also be a powerful tool to help you stay nicotine-free. A unique advantage of online support is that you can access it 24/7 (for example, if a craving strikes at 2 am and you don't want to wake up your partner).

In-person support groups are also valuable. You can meet local people who are going through the same process that you are. Reading about or hearing others talk about their experiences can inspire you and help you stay motivated.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or 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.

Create New Habits

Is your morning cigarette with coffee the hardest to let go of? Do you always light up as soon as you get in your car after work? Do you tend to smoke more when you're stressed, bored, or hungry?

Take an honest look at your smoking patterns and habits, and then figure out some healthy distractions and alternatives. For example:

  • Carpool to work with a non-smoker for the first few weeks after you stop smoking.
  • Keep your hands and mind busy by coloring, knitting, doing a puzzle, or painting your nails.
  • Prep healthy, crunchy finger foods (for example, cut-up veggies and fruits, seeds and nuts, or fat-free popcorn)
  • Go for a walk when you wake up (you can take your coffee with you in a to-go cup).

A Word From Verywell

Quitting nicotine cold turkey might work for you, but you don't have to give up if it does not. There are other ways you can successfully stop smoking.

When you're ready to quit smoking or using tobacco, start by talking to your health care provider about your options. They can help you create a quit-plan and decide if nicotine replacement therapy would help you stay tobacco-free.

1 Source
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. Quitting Smoking.

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