What to Do When Cigarette Cravings Hit
When a cigarette craving hits, it may be tough to resist the urge to smoke. Especially in the first weeks of your quit. One way to help manage your withdrawal symptoms, in addition to nicotine replacements like Nicorette and NicoDerm CQ, is simply to distract yourself. Do something else that takes your mind off smoking, helps lessen stress, or puts you in a situation where you really can’t smoke.
Why Cigarette Cravings Occur
The nicotine in cigarettes is the chemical that creates cravings. Nicotine is an addictive drug that triggers the release of brain chemicals related to pleasure sensations. When you quit smoking, you cut off the supply of nicotine to the brain receptors, causing them to adjust, reducing the amounts of nicotine in your body. When your brain notices the lack of nicotine, it sends signals that it wants more. This is nicotine withdrawal, which causes your cravings.
How Long Do Nicotine Cravings Last?
After quitting smoking, it takes between 3 and 4 days for nicotine to fully leave your body. That’s why the first few days after you quit smoking can be among the toughest: it’s when cravings first begin and are at their most intense. You can expect each craving to last about 10 to 20 minutes and then pass. Typically, cravings are strongest in people who smoked the longest.
But luckily, these initial cravings are short-lived. While it will take your brain chemistry up to three months to return to normal, cravings usually begin to lessen in strength and frequency after the first week, and are usually gone completely in one to three months.
How to Fight Nicotine Cravings
Talk to anyone who has quit smoking and they’ll have their own advice ontackling a craving. Here are a few ways that may help you:
Change Your Behavior
Think back to when you were smoking. Was there a time of day you always reached for a cigarette? Maybe it was when you first woke up. Or after dinner. Was it when you were stressed? These moments are triggers, times when a craving is most likely to strike. One way to keep these triggers at bay is to change your behavior. When you wake up in the morning, immediately do some push ups, or busy your hands by making coffee. If you’re stressed, calm yourself with some deep breathing or go for a short walk. As time goes on the cravings will lessen and who knows, maybe you’ll pick up a new healthy habit.
Ask for Help
Your support group is there for you. When you feel a craving coming on, call someone and invite them to a place where you can’t smoke, such as a museum, movie theatre or restaurant. Or suggest a fun activity that doesn’t involve smoking, like going to the gym, or biking. Just holding a phone and talking to someone will not only keep your hands busy but the conversation will take your mind off the craving.
Reflect on What’s Your Why?
Take a moment to think about your motivation for quitting. Is it to spend more time with your spouse? To watch your grandchildren graduate from college? Focusing on your why can be a powerful way to deal with cravings.
- Go somewhere you can’t smoke - like the mall or a movie theatre
- Play a game to keep your hands busy
- Phone a friend
- Take a walk
- Exercise - it can help relieve stress
- Take a catnap
- Check some errands off of your to-do list
- Do a little therapeutic home cleaning
- Remember your “why” – the reason you decided to quit smoking
- Take a relaxing shower or soothing bath
- Picture the future, smoke-free you and bask in how much better you’ll feel once you achieve your goal
Follow these tips to help when a craving strikes. For even more support, you may consider registering for our email program. We’ll deliver quitting advice and even more inspiration right to your inbox.