How to Beat Addictive Thought Patterns During Nicotine Withdrawal

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Thoughts of smoking are common as you go through nicotine withdrawal. It may feel as though your thoughts are trying to convince you to have just one more cigarette. Addictive thought patterns can happen when you least expect them.

It may feel like you're never going to stop missing cigarettes, but don't let these thoughts fool you. You can absolutely live nicotine-free. While coping with thoughts about smoking isn't easy, remember it's only temporary.

The tips below will help you build a strong mindset for smoking cessation.​

Cope With Withdrawal Symptoms

Nicotine is such a powerful drug that it changes how your brain works over time. Your body becomes so accustomed to nicotine and its effects that even when you stop smoking, you still feel like you need nicotine to function.

You may feel irritable, sad, and even depressed after you quit smoking. Most people have thoughts that try to convince them to have one more cigarette or to give up on quitting entirely because it's so uncomfortable.

The good news? In general, the longer you go without cigarettes, the more likely it is that your thoughts and cigarette cravings will feel more manageable.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are usually the most intense about three days after quitting. After a few weeks to a month, symptoms may lessen. In some cases, people continue to experience nicotine withdrawal for months after quitting, in which case, it's best to consult a doctor or health professional about your symptoms.

When you quit, the goal is to find a way to cope with withdrawal symptoms so that you don't go back to smoking. Smoking cessation medication or nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) may help.

Medication like Chantix (varenicline) or Zyban (bupropion) may help reduce cravings, and NRT products may make the symptoms of withdrawal less intense, so you can better cope with addictive thought patterns.

Of course, it's advised to speak with a healthcare provider about your best options for handling withdrawal.

List Your Reasons for Quitting

Try keeping a quit journal or a list of reasons why you quit smoking in the first place. You may also write a reason why you quit on a sticky note and post it on your bathroom mirror or on your refrigerator where you will see it every day.

Any time you have a thought about smoking, look at your quit journal or sticky note to remind yourself of your motivation to live smoke-free. This exercise can help take your mind off of what you're losing by quitting, and instead, shift the focus to what you're gaining.

Try the following prompt. At the top of a piece of paper, write, "Now that I've quit smoking...", and underneath, list all the benefits you'll receive (even if you haven't received them yet). The following are some examples for inspiration:

  • My health is improving every day.
  • I'm lowering my risk of cancer and other illnesses.
  • I feel better; I don't feel out of breath when I climb stairs.
  • I don't have to leave the dinner table to go outside and smoke.
  • I set a good example for my family when I don't smoke.
  • I no longer smell like cigarette smoke.
  • I'm saving money by not purchasing cigarettes.

Reframe Your Thoughts

Addictive thought patterns are tricky because they'll try to convince you that you're missing out on smoking. Reframing these thoughts can be a helpful way of realizing you don't need to listen to that little voice telling you to go out and buy another pack.

Addictive Thought
  • I will never get to smoke again.

  • I can have just one more cigarette and quit tomorrow.

  • I'm feeling like I really need a cigarette to get through this day.

  • I've smoked for years already. I might as well keep smoking.

Your New Thought
  • I get to live a better life without cigarettes.

  • One cigarette can easily lead to another, so I won't smoke any.

  • I'm triggered to smoke because I'm stressed. I need to relax instead.

  • It's never too late to quit and every day I'm smoke-free, my health gets better.

While it can be difficult to erase a thought from your head, you can acknowledge it and put the emphasis on quitting instead of smoking.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be an effective method of helping people cope with unwanted thoughts and urges when they quit smoking. A therapist can work with you to reframe your thoughts.

Know Your Triggers

The thoughts you have about smoking are intensified by smoking triggers. Common triggers include being around people who are smoking, going to places where you used to smoke, and drinking alcohol.

If you always smoked first thing in the morning or in the evening after dinner, for example, you can expect to have strong thoughts about cigarettes during those times of the day after you quit.

Emotions can be triggers to smoke as well. Stress, boredom, excitement, and even happiness may increase your urge to smoke.

Changing your routine can be a useful tool when you're going through nicotine withdrawal. For example, if you always smoked a cigarette before bed, try doing something else instead like going for a walk. Replace the ritual of smoking with a new habit.

Keep helpful items on hand like crunchy snacks or sugar-free candies to give you something to occupy your hands and your mouth instead of using cigarettes.

You may also want to steer clear of places or people that remind you of smoking until you've gotten through the early days of withdrawal. Changing your environment can be the difference between giving in to a thought about smoking and managing the thought in a more adaptive way.

Practice Mindfulness

There are many ways to practice mindfulness, including meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises. Mindfulness can be taking just a few minutes out of your day to pay attention to the sensations in your body or to the sounds inside your house or on the street.

Mindfulness may sound like a strange concept if you're not used to practicing it. But studies show that it can help people who've quit smoking cope with the urge to smoke.

Practicing mindfulness means realizing that you are not your thoughts. Just because you have a thought, doesn't mean you need to act on it. When you have a thought about smoking, you can simply acknowledge it, let it be, and wait for it to pass.

Engage in Self-Care

Taking care of your basic needs can go a long way in managing difficult thoughts during nicotine withdrawal. You may be more likely to think about cigarettes when you lack energy, so be sure to get enough sleep every night and eat a nutritious diet as well.

Exercise can be a great activity to boost energy levels and manage stress. If you're overwhelmed by addictive thought patterns during nicotine withdrawal, doing something physical can help get you out of your head and into your body. Try dancing to some music or taking a quick walk.

Ask yourself: What makes me feel good? Whether it's listening to music in your room, going for a drive on a sunny day, or seeing a movie with a friend, make a list of the activities that bring you joy, and remember to schedule downtime for yourself.

Join a Support Group

You may find comfort in being able to talk to other people who are quitting smoking, too. By joining a support group, whether in-person or online, you can learn from other people's experiences. You may find inspiration and tips on coping with thoughts about smoking.

Quit smoking apps are full of advice on quitting smoking effectively. Many of them track your progress and some even send daily messages of encouragement.

Even talking to a family member or friend when you're having thoughts about smoking can help you disrupt the thought. Let yourself be distracted by the positive people and things in your life.

Don't Give Up

Addictive thought patterns during nicotine withdrawal can feel incredibly powerful and persuasive.

If you give in to one of your thoughts and smoke a cigarette, don't give up on your entire journey to quit smoking.

Try not to criticize yourself for slipping up. Be compassionate toward yourself and remember that most people quit many times before they quit for good. If you smoke again after quitting, try to quit again as soon as possible.

A Word From Verywell

Quitting smoking is challenging, but you don't have to do it alone. Rely on the coping mechanisms, healthy habits, support systems, and withdrawal treatment that work best for you. If you need more support, talk to a healthcare provider about more resources that will help you quit smoking for good.

10 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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By Laura Harold
Laura Harold is an editor and contributing writer for Verywell Family, Fit, and Mind.

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