How to Deal With Nicotine Withdrawal

Helping your body and brain learn how to quit nicotine is challenging. Withdrawal from nicotine is a short phase overall, but it can be intense. Deal with nicotine withdrawal with mental strategies you can use as you go through the early days of smoking cessation. Empowering yourself with knowledge about what to expect can make this process more manageable.

Review Your Reasons to Quit Nicotine

Many of the reasons for wanting to quit smoking are common, but some of them will be unique to our own situation. Make a list on paper and/or as a note on your smartphone. Carry it with you, adding to it as more reasons pop into your mind. Read it often. Your list is a valuable tool to help you overcome the urge to smoke.

Know When You're Rationalizing

Thoughts of smoking just one cigarette are going to happen as you make your way through the early days of nicotine withdrawal. In fact, during the first week or two of smoking cessation, you may feel as though you’re thinking of nothing but smoking.

Addiction has an even stronger hold on you mentally than it does physically. Your mind will turn itself inside out trying to convince you that you must smoke again.

Be prepared for the mental chatter that comes with this phase of smoking cessation. Every new ex-smoker goes through some of it. Understand that it’s just a part of the process as you work to quit nicotine and don’t let it throw you. For most people, the worst of it will be over by the end of your first smoke-free month.

Be Prepared to Defeat Triggers

Physical withdrawal from nicotine triggers the urge to smoke. Once nicotine is gone from the bloodstream, triggers shift over to the mental associations you have built up over the years. From the first cup of coffee in the morning to the last thing you do before bed, smoking has become a part of who you are.

Triggers will often appear seemingly out of the blue and cause powerful urges to smoke. These can make you feel like you're back in the midst of physical withdrawal, even though there is no nicotine present in your body any longer. With practice, you can break down old habits and create new ones that are much healthier.

  • Distract yourself. Keep your hands busy with a hobby. Making a list of things to do instead of smoking will allow you to quickly switch to one of those activities.
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand to help you with the hand-to-mouth association of smoking.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or being around smokers. The time will come when drinking or being around people who are smoking won’t bother you, but don’t expect it within the first several weeks (or even months) of smoking cessation.
  • Learn to decipher smoking urges. Once you begin to understand what your body is signaling when you experience an urge to smoke, you can make better choices that will become automatic in time.

Surround Yourself With Support

Your ability to quit nicotine permanently will be much easier to sustain if you have strong, positive support around you. Friends and family can be helpful, but they may not understand the depth of what quitting smoking means to you, especially if they’ve never smoked. You may wish to try an online smoking cessation support forum or take advantage of the helplines to help you deal with nicotine withdrawal and the entire quit process.

Reward Yourself Daily

Every single day you complete smoke-free is a huge accomplishment. You may not think so, but the minutes, hours, and days you put between you and that last cigarette you smoked is working to strengthen your resolve. Little by little, you’re teaching yourself how to live without cigarettes.

Honor that effort daily for the first month or so by pampering yourself at least once a day. Don’t wait for others to pat you on the back—do it for yourself. ​Daily rewards don’t need to be elaborate. Time alone to relax with a good book, or a hot bath at the end of the day, can go a long way toward helping you feel good about the work you’re putting into smoking cessation. If you can choose rewards that also help you release tension, all the better.

Change Your Mind

It has been said that the average person has approximately 60,000 thoughts a day. You might be surprised to learn how much of what you think is negative and directed at yourself. And worse, many people repeat those self-defeating thoughts over and over and over again.

Your mind believes what you tell it, so pay attention to what you’re thinking. When you hear a self-defeating thought pop up, replace it immediately with one that is supportive. Replace thoughts of I can’t with statements of I can and I am. Give yourself positive cues.

You may think: All I can think about is smoking. I'll never stop missing cigarettes.

Correct the statement with something like this: I know that I'm missing cigarettes right now because I'm addicted to nicotine. Once I recover from that, I won't miss smoking anymore.

The life you want begins with your thoughts. Don't buy into a negative, self-defeating mindset. Train your brain to build strong quit muscles to deal with nicotine withdrawal and recover from nicotine addiction.

Think of Momentum as a Tool

You start your quit program on day one. You have to endure hell and heck weeks (the first and second weeks of smoking cessation) and the discomforts beyond them. Every smoke-free day makes you stronger and more able to succeed. The gains are imperceptible at first, but they're happening all the same.

Every day, you're building momentum that will propel you forward with greater ease as time goes by. That momentum will carry over into other areas of your life. You'll use it to achieve other goals you once thought of as unattainable. You can always do more than you think you can.

A Word From Verywell

People who quit smoking want all of the discomforts associated with recovery from nicotine addiction to be over with quickly. It’s understandable, but not realistic. Recovery takes time, so the more you can relax and use the time to your advantage, the better you’ll do.

Be patient with yourself and understand that you’re going through a healing process that is personal. How long it takes to quit nicotine and put smoking behind you is how long it takes. In other words, don't compare yourself to anyone else. Trust in the process and give yourself the time you need to heal fully.

3 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.
  1. How to Quit. Smokefree. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  2. Quitting Smoking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated November 18, 2019.

  3. Heydari G, Masjedi M, Ahmady AE, et al. A comparative study on tobacco cessation methods: a quantitative systematic reviewInt J Prev Med. 2014;5(6):673–678.

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