The "Icky 3's" of Smoking Cessation

woman with a headache

Jamie Grill / Getty Images

"Icky Threes" is a term that comes up over and over again during the process of smoking cessation. It refers to particular phases of a person's quit program that can be bumpy and uncomfortable.

Not everyone experiences the Icky Threes, or if they do, it might happen at slightly different time intervals, but it is common enough to take note of and be prepared for should it happen to you.

3 Days: Physical Withdrawal

The first three days of smoking cessation are intense for most ex-smokers. We're experiencing the intensity of nicotine withdrawal, and often, some excitement as well.

Taking the initial plunge into smoking cessation is something most ex-smokers dream of for a long time, but by the third day, the reality is setting in and so are the discomforts of physical withdrawal from nicotine.

3 Weeks: Psychological Withdrawal

At three weeks, we've gotten through the shock of physical withdrawal and we're just beginning to tackle the mental side of nicotine addiction. This turn of events often triggers cravings to smoke that can feel like we're back at square one again.

Be aware that even though nicotine might be out of your system by this point, psychological cravings can produce real physical reactions, making a mental trigger feel like physical withdrawal.

Thinking about that smoke break you used to take at a certain time of the day can cause tension that makes your stomach churn and leaves you on edge. It feels like a physical craving, and in a way it is...but the source is a thought, not physical withdrawal from nicotine.

3 Months: The Blahs

At three months the "newness" of the quit program is wearing off and we're often left thinking "Is that all there is?" The blahs hit, in other words. That usually triggers cravings to smoke, often quite intensely.

This is a time period when relapse is common. It can be discouraging to have strong smoking urges surface after months of cessation. For those who don't know why it's happening, it can feel like nicotine addiction will never let go of us, so what is the use of trying to quit.

Power on through this phase, because what you're feeling is temporary and normal.

Comfort with the new smoke-free life you're building will continue to grow with time, but only if you don't smoke. If you do, you'll be right back where you started 3 months ago.

Discomforts Are Temporary

Don't let the discomforts that come with smoking cessation throw you off course. They are all temporary, and once you move through them, they'll be cleared out and gone for good. It takes time though, so try to relax and let it unfold for you as it will.

Don't put preconceived expectations on your recovery — just resolve to give yourself as much time as it takes for you. Do this and you will find peace ... and eventually, lasting freedom.

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.

Was this page helpful?
Article 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. Hughes JR. Craving among long-abstinent smokers: An Internet surveyNicotine Tob Res. 2010;12(4):459-462. doi:10.1093/ntr/ntq009

  2. Ameringer KJ, Leventhal AM. Psychological symptoms, smoking lapse behavior, and the mediating effects of nicotine withdrawal symptoms: A laboratory studyPsychol Addict Behav. 2015;29(1):71-81. doi:10.1037/adb0000029