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, all at once and without medication or nicotine replacement products. This isn’t easy, nor the most effective method of smoking cessation, but it can work for some. Those who are most successful in quitting smoking cold turkey know what to expect and prepare as best they can for inevitable withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Among the reasons people cite for going cold turkey is the desire for a clean break from their habit. There can be many reasons for this, which are often quite motivating. Still, while worthwhile, the road ahead will have its challenges, as you are working to overcome an addiction.

If you think you're ready to go cold turkey, set a quit date and take the following steps to prepare yourself for a successful attempt at quitting smoking—one that even if not your first, is hopefully your last.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you are thinking about quitting, start by making 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.

Get in the Stop-Smoking Mindset

To be successful at quitting 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 cigarette or one drag won't hurt).

One way to do this is to start jotting down the many reasons (both big and small) why you decided to quit smoking in the first place. Write them down on a piece of paper that you can carry with you at all times, or in the notes section of your smartphone, so you can add to and easily access the list when a moment of weakness hits.

Prepare for Nicotine Withdrawal

Quitting cold turkey is difficult, in large part, because nicotine withdrawal may be more severe when you abruptly stop smoking. Nicotine is highly addictive—rivaling cocaine, alcohol, and heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And, like other drugs, you will experience some side effects as your body works hard to overcome the addiction and rid itself of harsh toxins and chemicals.

Nicotine withdrawal is a temporary phase of smoking cessation. If you stick with it, these symptoms will subside with time, and better days will follow:

  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • A cough
  • Sore throat
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feeling hungrier than usual

Expect that these issues will occur and do what you can to be ready for them. For example, see if you can line up a friend to help you watch your children for a bit when you're feeling too tired. Keep a water bottle with you at all times, so you remember to keep sipping. Stock up on throat lozenges in case you need them, and load your refrigerator up with healthy snacks you can reach for when hunger pangs kick in.

Avoid Temptation

To do so, your first step is to gather and toss all smoking paraphernalia (lights, matches, ashtrays, etc.) from your home (inside and outside) and car.

During this time, 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 whatever situation or place can be a trigger for you. Take it a step further and persuade one of them to buddy up with you to quit smoking together.

Seek Out Support

Like nicotine withdrawal, psychological urges can be better managed if you understand and plan for them. Knowing that these urges do pass—in some cases, within moments—can really help. Still, seeking support from friends and family is also important. Let them help motivate and encourage you to stick with your stop-smoking plan.

An online support forum can be a powerful tool to help you stay nicotine-free—and you can depend on it 24/7 if, say, a craving strikes at 2 a.m. In-person support groups are also valuable, as you can meet local people who are going through what you are. Even reading or hearing about others' quit-smoking experiences can help you stay on track.

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 that morning cigarette with coffee the toughest to quit? Do you always light up the moment 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:

  • Wake up and go for a walk (and take a to-go cup for your coffee)
  • Carpool to work with a non-smoker for those first few weeks of quitting
  • Prep some healthy, crunchy finger foods (cut-up veggies and fruits, seeds and nuts, fat-free popcorn)
  • Keep your hands and mind busy by coloring, knitting, doing a puzzle, or painting your nails.

A Word From Verywell

Quitting cold turkey might work well for you. But if it doesn't, talk to your doctor about other options. You might find nicotine replacement therapy is more effective at helping you quit for good.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Quitting Smoking. Updated November 18, 1019.