Stages of Quitting Smoking
Smoking is a marathon not a sprint. And when you set out on your challenging but ultimately hugely rewarding journey, you can expect to pass through various stages. As you rack up the days and weeks, you’re likely to experience different feelings – from background cravings to a sudden, intense urge to smoke again. Don’t worry though, this is all completely normal. Your body is missing its usual hit of nicotine – but that constant craving for a cigarette should fade over time. Give yourself a better chance of getting through these tougher periods with our guide to the stages of stopping smoking.
The different stages of your quit journey
The stages of stopping smoking could include everything from periods of restlessness to a temptation to reach for the snacks. Understand these feelings and symptoms and when to expect them with our breakdown of the key stages.
What happens when you stop smoking?
When you decide to quit smoking you could start to benefit right away. Here’s what could happen in the first few days after smoking your last cigarette:
• 20 minutes: Your heart rate may start to return to normal
• 8 hours: Levels of harmful carbon monoxide, present in cigarette smoke, can fall by 50%
• 48 hours: All carbon monoxide should now be flushed out of your body
• 72 hours: Your bronchial tubes should start to relax, which can make your breathing feel easier
As you can see, your body goes through a lot of changes when you quit. Here are some of the things you may feel and experience across the various stages of stopping smoking.
Physical withdrawal symptoms
The main reason you might find it hard to give up smoking is that you’ve become addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes. When you stop feeding that addiction your body can struggle to adjust, leading to a period of withdrawal symptoms. This is completely normal when stopping smoking and a sign your body is recovering. Typical physical symptoms after smoking cessation can include:
• Difficulty concentrating
• Sleep disturbances
• Weight gain or an increased appetite
When and for how long? - Cravings and withdrawal symptoms can start to improve after two to three weeks but may last longer
.What you can do to help? Try to avoid known triggers and situations you associate with smoking, such as drinking coffee or alcohol, or stressful situations at work or home, as they may contribute to your cravings. If you find yourself feeling irritable, try going for a walk or doing some other form of exercise – it can be a great distraction. Learn more about headaches and quitting smoking.
Intense cigarette cravings
Cigarette cravings may be one of the main obstacles you have to overcome as part of any stop smoking plan. Cravings happen when the receptors in your brain recognise the body isn’t getting its usual dose of nicotine – they kick into gear to tell you to get more. There are a couple of types of cravings:
• Always-on: The low-level background craving that’s there day and night, less intense but a constant presence
• Short and sharp: Sudden urges to smoke that can be triggered by your emotions, such as feeling stressed, or by certain situations like seeing friends.
Cravings generally become less frequent over time, but their intensity can remain strong even months after you quit.
When and for how long? Cravings are usually at their worst within the first month, generally starting to improve after you’ve been smoke-free for two to three weeks.
What can you do to help? Using Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and changing your behaviours can help to control cravings. NRT patches are ideal for satisfying background cravings, while products such as mouth sprays and nasal sprays can tackle sudden urges. Behaviour change is all about avoiding the triggers that make you crave a cigarette. Try to stay positive and focus on the benefits of stopping smoking too – it’s just another craving, you’ve got this!
Feeling irritable or angry
Feeling irritable is another part of nicotine withdrawal. At the start of your quit journey it may be worth explaining to your loved ones that this may happen so they know what to expect and can offer support. Feelings of anxiety can also be common in the first few days and may last for a couple of weeks after quitting. As well as nicotine withdrawal, there’s a huge behavioural shift going on. You may have always smoked on your morning break, when you’re stressed or while having a drink. It was probably something you looked forward to and enjoyed. Now you might be missing it, which could make you angry. But don’t worry, this is all a normal part of the quit journey.
When and for how long? Feelings of anger and irritability can last approximately four weeks but are thought to be at their worst after one week
What you can do to help? Remind yourself these feelings are temporary and pushing past them will be worth it. When you feel your mood going downhill, try heading out for a walk, or doing some breathing exercises. The Nicorette® First Week Challenge can give you structure and help you stay positive.
Concerned about mental health? It’s easy to get irritable when quitting smoking – it’s a common withdrawal symptom. But it’s important to differentiate between symptoms related solely to stopping smoking and those linked to mental health issues. If you’re concerned about depression or another mental health condition, it’s best to talk to your GP. Read more about mental health support and helplines.
Restlessness and trouble concentrating or sleeping
If you’re a super-organised plate-spinner at work and home, prepare for a possible short-term dip in your concentration levels and an increase in restlessness. This is because there’s so much going on as you deal with smoking withdrawal symptoms. Cravings can be distracting, which makes focusing on your work or other tasks challenging, and can leave you feeling tired. You may also struggle to sleep at first, as nicotine cravings can cause difficulties sleeping. Again, don’t worry, this is all part of the stages of giving up smoking.
When and for how long? Any insomnia can subside within about a month after you smoked your last cigarette. Your concentration can pick up again after only a few weeks.
What you can do to help? Try doing some regular exercise to help keep away the urge to smoke. This can also help you feel more tired when you go to bed so you may sleep better at night. Take a break and it may help improve your concentration levels. If you can, allow yourself to be slightly less of a superhero at work and home and let others pick up the slack for once? Plan that extra time into your schedule so you have some breathing space. For better sleep, try easing off the coffee, as caffeine can reduce both the quality and quantity of sleep, and increase the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
Feeling hungry and putting on weight
You may be worried about putting on weight when you quit smoking. Smoking can speed up your metabolism and suppress your appetite. When you quit you might find that food tastes better, as well as being tempted to snack on food to replicate the hand-to-mouth action of holding a cigarette.
When and for how long? Feeling hungrier and craving foods can last longer than some symptoms, as your sense of taste may improve, making food more enjoyable.
What can you do to help? Start by following a healthy eating plan, eat smaller portions of food until your metabolism stabilises and stick to healthy snacks like fruit and nuts to stave off any hunger cravings. Try to eat less fatty and sugary foods and keep your metabolism high. The Couch to 5K plan could be a good place to start.
Begin your journey to a smoke-free future with Nicorette
Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) could help you overcome the challenges of quitting smoking. It works by replacing the nicotine you would get from cigarettes with a lower dose of nicotine, without the tar, carbon monoxide and other poisonous chemicals present in tobacco smoke. At Nicorette, we’ve been pioneering Nicotine Replacement Therapy products for decades to help you tackle each of the stages of stopping smoking. For example, nicotine patches like Nicorette® InvisiPatch can help with constant background cravings, while a fastacting mouthspray like Nicorette® QuickMist can ease intense cravings. Many withdrawal symptoms we’ve talked about can peak within the first week of quitting smoking. To help you get past this we created the Nicorette® First Week Challenge – packed with handy tips and advice. Combine this with the right NRT product to help you quit for good. We know you can do it. You know you can do it. You’ve got this.