Going Cold Turkey: What to Expect. Going “cold turkey” simply means giving up cigarettes with your willpower alone, and forgoing any assistance, use of tools, nicotine replacement products or professional support.

Quitting Cold Turkey: What to Expect

Going “cold turkey” simply means giving up cigarettes with your willpower alone, and forgoing any assistance, use of tools, nicotine replacement products or professional support.

The cold turkey method is the fastest way to get nicotine out of your system, but can come with difficult withdrawal symptoms. For a cold turkey attempt to be effective, it’s important to have a plan in place and to properly prepare for any withdrawal symptoms you may face. 

Managing Withdrawal Symptoms Effectively

Although quitting cold turkey can be difficult, there are a number of steps you can take to help you adjust to what can be quite a significant change. 

A great place to begin is to set setting a convenient date that works for you. It may be best to avoid a quit date that overlaps with an activity you associate with smoking, like drinking alcohol or socialising. In fact, it can be helpful to steer clear of places where people smoke throughout the initial stages of your quit attempt. Avoiding stressful situations and common triggers can also be equally valuable when attempting to stop cold turkey. 

Ultimately, it’s helpful to have plenty of distractions on-hand to get you through your cravings. Physical exercise can help, as can chewing gum or sucking on a lozenge or mint. But however you choose to combat cravings, it’s important to remember that they’re temporary, and typically for most people the worst symptoms of nicotine withdrawal will eventually subside within a matter of days or weeks.

It's Not for Everyone

Although the sudden and complete withdrawal of nicotine use has worked for many ex-smokers, going cold turkey is known to be very difficult. In fact, only 4% of cold turkey quitters remain smoke-free after a year.


The reason going cold turkey is so difficult is that it leaves your cravings, and any related withdrawal symptoms, untreated. Nicotine withdrawal isn’t dangerous, but it can be unpleasant, and because of this, the risk of relapse is highest in the first few weeks after stopping smoking, when cravings can be at their most severe.

Willpower Support

If going cold turkey isn’t for you, there are plenty of other ways to support your willpower. 


Nicotine Replacement Therapy (i.e. gums, patches, lozenges) is one such method that has been shown to increase a quitter’s chances of stopping for good. By releasing a small dosage of nicotine, NRT reduces withdrawal symptoms and therefore helps to relieve cravings. For more information about NRT, see our complete guide here. And to find out more about other medications intended to assist quitters, speak to your GP, Pharmacist, or local stop smoking service.  

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Site last updated on 2 May 2019
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