First, congratulate yourself. Just reading this article is a big step toward becoming tobacco-free.
Many people don't quit smoking because they think it's too hard, and it's true that for most people quitting isn't easy. After all, the nicotine in cigarettes is a powerfully addictive drug. But with the right approach, you can overcome the cravings.
Where to Start
Smokers often start smoking because friends or family do. But they keep smoking because they get addicted to nicotine, one of the chemicals in cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.
Nicotine is both a stimulant and a depressant. That means it increases the heart rate at first and makes people feel more alert. Then it causes depression and fatigue. The depression and fatigue — and the drug withdrawal from nicotine — make people crave another cigarette to perk up again. Some experts think the nicotine in tobacco is as addictive as cocaine or heroin.
But don't be discouraged; millions of people have permanently quit smoking. These tips can help you quit, too:
Put it in writing. People who want to make a change often are more successful when they put their goal in writing. Write down all the reasons why you want to quit smoking, like the money you'll save or the stamina you'll gain for playing sports. Keep that list where you can see it. Add new reasons as you think of them.
Get support. People are more likely to succeed at quitting when friends and family help. If you don't want to tell your family that you smoke, ask friends to help you quit. Consider confiding in a counselor or other adult you trust. If it's hard to find people who support you (like if your friends smoke and aren't interested in quitting), join an online or in-person support group.
Strategies That Work
Set a quit date. Pick a day that you'll stop smoking. Put it on your calendar and tell friends and family (if they know) that you'll quit on that day. Think of the day as a dividing line between the smoking you and the new, improved nonsmoker you'll become.
Throw away your cigarettes — all of your cigarettes. People can't stop smoking with cigarettes around to tempt them. So get rid of everything, including ashtrays, lighters, and, yes, even that pack you stashed away for emergencies.
Wash all your clothes. Get rid of the smell of cigarettes as much as you can by washing all your clothes and having your coats or sweaters dry-cleaned. If you smoked in your car, clean that out, too.
Think about your triggers. You're probably aware of the times when you tend to smoke, such as after meals, when you're at your best friend's house, while drinking coffee, or as you're driving. Any situation where it feels automatic to have a cigarette is a trigger. Once you've figured out your triggers, try these tips:
- Break the link. If you smoke when you drive, get a ride to school, walk, or take the bus for a few weeks so you can break the connection. If you normally smoke after meals, do something else after you eat, like go for a walk or talk to a friend.
- Change the place. If you and your friends usually eat takeout in the car so you can smoke, sit in the restaurant instead.
- Substitute something else for cigarettes. It can be hard to get used to not holding something or not having a cigarette in your mouth. If you have this problem, stock up on carrot sticks, sugar-free gum, mints, toothpicks, or lollipops.
Expect some physical symptoms. If your body is addicted to nicotine, you may go through withdrawal when you quit. Physical feelings of withdrawal can include:
- headaches or stomachaches
- crabbiness, jumpiness, or depression
- lack of energy
- dry mouth or sore throat
- a desire to eat
The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal will pass — so be patient. Try not to give in and sneak a smoke because you'll just have to deal with the withdrawal longer.
Keep yourself busy. Many people find it's best to quit on a Monday, when they have school or work to keep them busy. The more distracted you are, the less likely you'll be to crave cigarettes. Staying active is also a good distraction, plus it helps you keep your weight down and your energy up.
Quit gradually. Some people find that gradually decreasing the number of cigarettes they smoke each day is an effective way to quit. But this strategy doesn't work for everyone. You may find it's better for you to go "cold turkey" and stop smoking all at once.
Look into using a nicotine replacement if you need to. If you find that none of these strategies is working, talk to your doctor about treatments like nicotine replacement gums, patches, inhalers, or nasal sprays. Sprays and inhalers are available by prescription only, and it's important to see your doctor before buying the patch and gum over the counter. Different treatments work differently (for example, the patch is easy to use, but other treatments offer a faster kick of nicotine). Your doctor can help you find the solution that will work best for you.
If you slip up, don't give up! Major changes sometimes have false starts. If you're like many people, you may quit successfully for weeks or even months and then suddenly have a craving that's so strong you feel like you have to give in. Or maybe you accidentally find yourself in one of your trigger situations and give in to temptation.
If you slip up, it doesn't mean you've failed. It just means you're human. Here are three ways to get back on track:
- Think about your slip as one mistake. Take notice of when and why it happened and move on.
- Did you become a heavy smoker after one cigarette? Probably not. It happened more gradually, over time. Keep in mind that one cigarette didn't make you a smoker to start with, so smoking one cigarette (or even two or three) after you quit doesn't make you a smoker again.
- Remind yourself why you quit and how well you've done — or have someone in your support group, family, or friends do this for you.
Reward yourself. Quitting smoking isn't easy. Give yourself a well-deserved reward! Set aside the money you usually spend on cigarettes. When you've stayed tobacco-free for a week, 2 weeks, or a month, give yourself a treat like a gift card, movie, or some clothes. Celebrate again every smoke-free year. You earned it.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2013