Nicotine Withdrawal Advice From Successful Ex-Smokers

How to Manage the Discomforts Without Lighting Up

Senior couple hugging on porch
Paul Bradbury/Caiaimage/Getty

There is no better teacher than the voice of experience, and when it comes to nicotine withdrawal, there are no better teachers than members of our own community. They are an important resource for new ex-smokers. 

When you're done reading this, bookmark it to refer to it when you're having a bad day. Next thing you know, you'll be the one sharing the tips that helped you most—with smoking solidly in your past.

Beating Physical Cravings to Smoke

There are various ways to beat cravings that don't involve a patch. Here are a few practices that worked for me:

  • Drink plenty of water: Water is one of nature's best quitting aids and will help you beat back cravings to smoke. You'll be well-hydrated, which in turn keeps you at your best to deal with the discomforts of the first few weeks of smoking cessation. Water can help control snacking and flush the toxins from cigarettes out of your body more quickly.
  • Avoid all smokers: At least for the first week. Climbing the walls was necessary, but I did manage it.
  • Chew something: Munching on spicy things like cinnamon candies and whole cloves stimulated those oral muscles so used to smoking. Arm yourself with sugar-free bubble gum, mints, or candy at all times
  • Curb or cut certain beverages: Because alcohol can reduce inhibitions, you may lose track of your willpower and reach for a cigarette. Non-alcoholic beverages can apply, too. I cut my coffee intake to one, sometimes two, cups per day.
  • Accept cravings: I do not fight the cravings and urges to smoke because it only makes me tenser. I try to accept, if not welcome them as a natural part of my addiction recovery. I let them wash over me, take deep breaths and just ride them out with movement—climbing a flight of stairs, jumping up and down, or taking a hot shower.
  • Sing: The physical act of singing works great as a crave-buster. It gives the lungs a workout, gets the blood flowing, and kills the urge to smoke in the process. Pick your favorite motivating music, and as an added bonus, it's a mood booster.

Releasing the "Habit" of Smoking

I recognized, after the initial physical withdrawal from nicotine, that I was breaking a habit. So I thought about how I could replace that habit with something healthy.

For instance, you can take a different route to work. Or have your morning coffee and meals in a different room than you usually do. I used to smoke on my porch. Instead, I started taking herbal tea to the porch, and before long I didn't feel comfortable going out there without my tea.

I also look past the desire for a cigarette to the bigger meaning. The only thing smoking a cigarette would accomplish—besides making me feel bad—would be to make me want another cigarette. Even if it satisfied me, how long would that satisfaction last? How long before I'd want another one? When you learn to identify the source of your discomfort, you can react with a better choice than smoking. If you're tired, rest. If you're hungry, have a snack.

Reducing Stress

A stress ball is one way to find relief—I used a 2-inch cloth-covered gel ball myself—but there are plenty of other methods. Find the technique that fits best into your lifestyle and try to practice it frequently when cravings hit.

  • Exercise: I make it a practice to get in at least 30-40 minutes of brisk walking daily.
  • Write in a diary: This practice helped me most for the first weeks and months. I actually wrote "Day 1," "Day 2," and so on and under each heading described how I felt and how I dealt with various situations.  
  • Pamper yourself: During the early stages, I was very critical of myself, so I told myself it was okay if I had a few days where I did nothing but rest and relax. It made nicotine withdrawal a lot easier because I didn't expect too much of myself during the first few days.
  • Breathe: Use meditation techniques or whatever method sticks for you. For many, the relaxation you reap from breathing exercises offers a similar feeling as nicotine once did.
  • Find a buddy: I paired up with someone who quit the same day I did. We held each other accountable.
  • Laugh: Keep your sense of humor. Watch comedies on TV, funny movies, or find joke websites on the Internet.  

Adjusting Your Attitude

Mantras can be a powerful way to shift thinking from negative to positive. These inner monologues helped me in my quitting journey:

  • I choose to work it just for today. I don't worry about tomorrow. If I keep my focus on staying smoke-free just for today, it becomes less overwhelming.  
  • Remember quitting isn't an event—it is a process. Everyone's process is different. It does get better for some earlier, and for others (like me) later.  
  • Recite NOPE (Not One Puff Ever) as often as you need, make a song out of it and chant it when you have a craving—this helped me immensely in the beginning.  
  • Knowledge is power. Understanding this addiction and our internal junkie goes a long way toward beating it. 
  • When I see a smoker "enjoying" a cigarette, I remind myself that they probably wish that they could quit like I have. I know that's how I felt as a smoker whenever someone I knew had quit.  
  • I remind myself that nicotine withdrawal takes a lot of work and I will just have to start at the beginning again should I relapse. I also remind myself that there is no such thing as having just one cigarette. I know from personal experience and have made that mistake too many times before. It never works. 

Thankfully, nicotine withdrawal is a short-lived phase of smoking cessation, but it can be intense while it lasts. The more you understand about what to expect when you quit smoking, the better prepared you'll be to plan for and successfully navigate the challenges that may present themselves along the way.

Be patient with yourself and willing to devote full attention to your quit program. Cast off any preconceived notions you might have about how long the recovery process should take. Rather, relax into your journey and take it one day at a time. The difficulties of nicotine withdrawal pale in comparison to the strength and empowerment that comes from beating nicotine addiction.

Was this page helpful?