Will I Miss Smoking Forever?

a person putting a cigarette out in an ashtray

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Once a person decides to quit smoking, cravings for cigarettes is often one of the first and longest-lasting symptoms of withdrawal. These cravings are often strong at first but usually begin to dwindle the longer a person goes without smoking.

In order to get through these cravings without a relapse, it is important to understand not only how long these cravings will last, but also the steps you can take to deal with the urge to smoke.

Why You Miss Smoking

The process of quitting smoking involves not just getting past the physical dependence on nicotine, but on coping with psychological dependence as well. Smoking is often a way of dealing with stress, of bonding with friends, and just plain habit.

Cigarette cravings typically peak in the first few days after quitting and diminish greatly over the course of the first month without smoking. While you might miss smoking from time to time, once you make it past six months, the urge to smoke will be diminished or even gone.

One study found that while nearly 60% of smokers report at least some desire to smoke within the past year, only around 11% exhibited significant, prolonged cravings.

Think for a moment of your life as a tightly woven piece of fabric. Each thread represents your life events and experiences, and running alongside the many "life" threads are threads of a finer gauge. They are so fine in fact, they're impossible to see with the naked eye.

Those threads are the associations you have between smoking and all of your life threads. Over time, they've become so thoroughly interwoven in the fabric of your life, you find you can't do anything without thinking about how smoking will fit into it.

Once you quit smoking, the job becomes one of unraveling those smoking threads, or associations, one by one.

There are a number of strategies that you can use to help keep the cravings at bay in both the short- and long-term.

Practice

Recovery from nicotine addiction is a process of gradual release over time.

Every smoke-free day you complete is teaching you how to live your life without cigarettes. Bit by bit, you're reprogramming your responses to daily events that trigger the urge to smoke by choosing something other than smoking when the urge surfaces.

The more practice you get, the fewer cravings will plague you. Eventually, your mind will adopt the new way of managing smoking urges.

Over the course of your first smoke-free year, you'll encounter and have a chance to clear most of the events and situations in your daily life that you associate with smoking.

Practice is a necessary part of recovery from nicotine addiction. There is no getting around it, so try to relax and let time help you. You built your smoking habit through years of practice, and now you must build the nonsmoking you the same way. The more practice you put between yourself and that last cigarette you smoked, the stronger you'll become.

Watch for Seasonal Triggers

Some smoking triggers are seasonal in nature and can create strong smoking urges months into your quit program. For instance, you may have stopped smoking during the winter and you're an avid gardener. You could find yourself craving a smoke break the first time you're out digging in the dirt the following spring.

Thoughts of smoking-related to the seasonal activities may hit you with an intensity you haven't felt in months. Don't worry. You're not backsliding. Your mind is just processing old associations. Once you make your way through the trigger smoke-free, it will let go for good and you can move on.

Adopt the Right Attitude

There's another step in finding permanent freedom from nicotine addiction that is just as important as practice and time. It involves your attitude.

You might know an ex-smoker who says they'll always miss smoking, even though they haven't had a puff in 20 years. That's a frightening thing to hear, but there's a reason why they are in that position, and it is something you can remedy for yourself.

People who reminisce about how great smoking was and how much they loved smoking never changed what cigarettes meant to them.  

As smokers, most of us do think we love smoking, but the truth is that we love the relief we feel when a dwindling nicotine level is replenished in our bodies. Nicotine withdrawal starts as soon as we stub out a cigarette, and that physical need to ease the discomfort becomes linked to the activities we're involved in at the time. This happens numerous times each day and over time, our minds come to believe that smoking is a necessary component in leading a fulfilled life.

We think life will be dull without cigarettes when in reality, we are associating physical addiction with pleasure. 

When we quit, that unhealthy and inaccurate mindset must be reprogrammed if we are to break those links for good. We can abstain from smoking forever, but if we don't do the work to change how we feel about cigarettes, we can miss smoking forever too.

Change Your Mindset

Understanding the power of addiction and the dangers of smoking can be helpful when it comes to recovering from nicotine addiction. 

While most people are aware of the health dangers of smoking, active smokers do all they can to avoid reading about it if at all possible.

Some steps you can take to start changing your mindset:

  • Educate yourself. Start seeking out information and research on how smoking harms us, and do it often. It will open your eyes, but more importantly, it will help you start to change the relationship you have with cigarettes. Once you do that, the mental chains of this addiction will begin to break down for good.
  • Find an online smoking cessation support group. It doesn't matter whether you're a group support kind of person or not, because it's not necessary to participate to benefit from it. Go in and read how other new ex-smokers are coping and you'll come away with your resolve strengthened. Give it a try and you'll see.

Coping Tips

Here are just a few things you can do instead of smoking:

  • Go for a walk
  • Call a friend
  • Run an errand
  • Have a healthy snack
  • Do yoga
  • Chew gum or mints
  • Do some exercises

How to Deal With the Urge to Smoke

Even after you have been smoke-free for a period of time, you might have periodic urges for a cigarette. In order to prevent a relapse, it is important to have strategies in place that will help you deal with the occasional craving.

  • Take care of yourself. Make sure that you are not replacing one bad habit with another. Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy meals, and drink plenty of water.
  • Create new habits. Smoking often becomes associated with other activities that people also enjoy. Instead of focusing on how much you miss smoking, think about other aspects of those situations that you also enjoyed and find ways to create new hobbies or habits that are just as gratifying.
  • Ask for help. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member whenever you feel an urge to smoke. Talking about it can remind you of how far you've come. Or you might just go do something that will take your mind off of smoking.
  • Find substitutes. If cravings or urges get bad, try chewing gum, sucking on a minty candy, brushing your teeth, or munching on crunchy veggies. Having something that engages your mouth and hands can sometimes get you through those moments when you really miss smoking.

Take it one day at a time. Congratulate yourself for every step forward. The process will get easier every day that you remain smoke-free. Reward yourself when you reach important milestones. For example, you might treat yourself with a trip to the salon for one month without a cigarette and a larger reward once you make it to a year without smoking.

If you need help dealing with the urge to smoke, you can call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) free helpline at 1-800-784-8669 for assistance.

A Word from Verywell

Learning more about nicotine addiction can help change your perceptions of cigarettes.

Seek support and above all, be patient with yourself. Allow as much time as you need to heal from nicotine addiction. There is no set formula for recovery. Every person's experience is unique, and everyone must move through this process in their own way.

Don't look at quitting tobacco as a sacrifice. You're not giving up anything of value. Your quit program is a gift. Change your attitude and you'll find lasting release from this unhealthy habit.

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