What to Expect When Quitting Smoking

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When you try to quit smoking, expect it to be hard. Nicotine is an addictive drug. Most people who try to quit don’t succeed on the first try. But don’t give up. The physical, emotional and social challenges of quitting will be temporary. The benefits of success at quitting will be big and permanent.

Physical Effects of Quitting

Trying to quit smoking can bring on physical symptoms. That's because nicotine changes your brain chemistry. These symptoms are called withdrawal. Here's what to expect:

  • Cravings: These are strong urges to smoke. The good thing is they don’t last long. They will lessen over time and should disappear after a few weeks. To get through a craving, try taking 10 deep breaths. Start an activity or exercise. Talk to trusted friend or family member who know what you’re going through.

  • Hunger and weight gain: You might have more of an appetite. On average, people gain about 10 pounds after quitting. Stick to a healthy diet and increase your exercise time to counteract the extra calories and weight gain.

  • Other physical symptoms: Some people have headaches. Some become constipated. Others develop a cough or congestion. Fatigue is common. These symptoms usually go away in about a week. If they are severe, ask your doctor for help.

Emotional Effects of Quitting

The brain changes from nicotine can also affect your emotions. Here's what to expect:

  • Triggers: These are activities, places, people and things that cause cravings. Common triggers include being around smokers, driving, and being bored. For many people, finishing a meal triggers the urge to smoke. For others, getting up in the morning does this. Drinking coffee or alcohol is also a common trigger. Avoid triggers when you can. Other times, find an alternative. For instance, drink a glass of water or start an activity after a meal or first thing in the morning.

  • Anxiety and irritability: You may find you are more anxious and angry. You may have trouble staying focused. Don’t get frustrated. These symptoms should pass in about a week. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Try some deep-breathing or relaxation techniques. Get some exercise—away from possible triggers.

  • Depression: Some people who quit smoking feel sad and lose interest in daily activities. These feelings should pass in a few weeks. Talk with your doctor if the feelings are severe and last more than a few weeks. Also, talk with your doctor if you've had depression in the past, ideally in advance of your planned date to quit smoking. Sometimes, nicotine withdrawal can trigger an episode of major depression.

Social Effects of Quitting

To quit smoking, you will have to make some changes. You'll need to make healthier lifestyle choices. This is likely to affect your day-to-day life, your social self. The outcome should be a good one, but change can be hard. The social effects of quitting may include:

  • Avoiding the company of other smokers

  • Not doing activities you associate with smoking, like playing cards or sitting at a bar

  • Not drinking alcohol

  • Asking people to not smoke around you, in your house, or in your car

  • Eating a healthier diet

  • Getting more exercise

  • Learning ways to manage stress and anxiety

The Benefits of Quitting

Quitting smoking puts you on the path to a healthier and longer life. That's the biggest benefit. But, there are many others. These benefits are worth the effort of quitting. If you've tried to quit but it didn’t work, ask your doctor for help. There are nicotine replacement therapies, medications and smoking cessation programs available. They can make quitting easier and increase the odds you'll succeed.

Think about these other benefits:

  • You will save the money you've been spending on smoking.

  • You will have more time to spend with your family.

  • Your risk of cancer and many other diseases will start to go down.

  • The air will smell cleaner.

  • Food will taste better.

  • You will be an inspiration to your loved ones.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 16
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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