Quitting smoking: After you quit
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In the short term after you quit, you will likely continue to crave nicotine and most likely experience some symptoms of withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal appear within one to two days, peak in the first week and last about 2 to 4 weeks.
Withdrawal symptoms may include:
- feeling restless, irritable, angry or sad
- having difficulty concentrating
- having trouble sleeping
The first 4 weeks are the toughest. After that, many of the withdrawal symptoms should end. However, if you feel sad or mildly depressed and those feelings don't go away within three weeks of your quit date, see a health care professional.
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Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical naturally found in tobacco. Over time, your brain gets used to it. Soon after smoking, the level of nicotine in your system starts to drop and your brain begins to crave it. You may feel uncomfortable without it and get the urge to smoke again: a craving. Consider nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and prescription medication, which are especially effective in managing nicotine cravingsFootnote 1. Read-on for some additional strategies to help ease your cravings.
Coping during the craving
- Exercise or go for walks; being active can help reduce cigarette cravingsFootnote 2
- Practise meditation, and focus on breathingFootnote 3
- Get some fresh clean air or sniff pleasant smells (chocolate, apple, peppermint, lemon or vanilla) as they may help reduce the cravingsFootnote 4
- Grab a healthy snack to keep your hands and mouth busy
- Try hobbies that keep your hands busy, maybe doodle or knit
- Play a game, take a shower or try chewing gum –any activity you can't do while smoking
- Remind yourself that the feeling will pass!
Long-term strategies to manage cravings
- Remind yourself that you are now a person who doesn't smoke
- Avoid doing any of the things you strongly associate with smokingFootnote 5
- Talk to your doctor about getting individual counsellingFootnote 6
- Join a support group; sharing goals with others can help you stay on trackFootnote 7
- Create a list that you can easily review with reminders of why you quit and the benefits of quitting
Regaining control after slips
A slip can be when you have a few puffs or even a whole cigarette. It can lead back to regular smoking if you let it. Having a plan in place in case you slip is helpful.
If you smoke again:
- stop smoking immediately
- leave the room or the situation
- if you bought cigarettes, throw them out
- remind yourself how far you have come, not how far you have to go
- encourage yourself not to give up
To regain control:
- don't criticize yourself and don't give-up!
- use your chosen strategies to manage cravings
- talk to someone to distract or encourage you
- call the toll-free Pan-Canadian Quitline at 1-866-366-3667 or your quit buddy to get help and support
If you slip, don't get discouraged –it can be part of the process. Try to figure out why it happened and what you can do to prevent a slip from happening again in the future.
Dealing with potential weight gain
Most people who quit smoking gain about 4 to 6 kg or 8 to 13 lb over the long-termFootnote 8. This doesn't mean you will definitely gain weight or even gain that much.
You are less likely to gain weight if you:
- have a healthy diet
- stick to low calorie snacks
- increase your physical activity
If you plan on adopting a healthier diet, it may be easier for you to do so a few weeks before your quit date. It also helps to drink lots of water.
After you quit, health benefits such as improved lung function and heart rate could change how you experience exercise over time, helping you to be physically active.
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- Footnote 1
Sinha, S. & Shah, A. (2017). Pharmacotherapy of Tobacco Use Disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry Residents’ Journal, 11(9). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp-rj.2016.110903
- Footnote 2
Janse Van Rensburg, K., Taylor, A., Hodgson, T. et al. (2009). Acute exercise modulates cigarette cravings and brain activation in response to smoking-related images: an fMRI study. Psychopharmacology, 203, 589. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-008-1405-3
- Footnote 3
Tang, Y. Y., Tang, R., & Posner, M. I. (2013). Brief meditation training induces smoking reduction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(34), 13971–13975. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1311887110
- Footnote 4
Sayette, M. A., Marchetti, M. A., Herz, R. S., Martin, L. M., & Bowdring, M. A. (2019). Pleasant olfactory cues can reduce cigarette craving. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128(4), 327–340. https://doi.apa.org/doi/10.1037/abn0000431
- Footnote 5
Buczkowski, K., Marcinowicz, L., Czachowski, S., & Piszczek, E. (2014). Motivations toward smoking cessation, reasons for relapse, and modes of quitting: results from a qualitative study among former and current smokers. Patient preference and adherence, 8, 1353–1363. https://doi.org/10.2147/PPA.S67767
- Footnote 6
Lancaster, T., Stead, L.F. (2017). Individual behavioural counselling for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD001292. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001292.pub3
- Footnote 7
Huang, C.L.. Evaluating the program of a smoking cessation support group for adult smokers: a longitudinal pilot study. (2005). J Nurs Res., 13(3),197-205. doi:10.1097/01.jnr.0000387541.83630.71
- Footnote 8
Parsons, A.C., Shraim, M., Inglis, J., Aveyard, P., Hajek, P. (2009). Interventions for preventing weight gain after smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.,1,CD006219.. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006219.pub2
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