Coping with nicotine withdrawal and smoking triggers


When you first quit smoking, you may notice nicotine withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, restlessness, dizziness, coughing, and hunger. This is normal, as quitting smoking means breaking both a psychological habit and a physical addiction to nicotine. These symptoms are most intense in the first few days after quitting and usually subside after about 2 weeks. But they can be very powerful, and may jeopardize your changes of quitting. Knowing how to control them can help you stay on track.

Here are a few tips for coping with withdrawal:

  • If you are feeling irritable, try taking a deep breath, stepping away from the situation and having a short break to do something you enjoy, such as listening to music.
  • If you are having trouble concentrating, try taking lots of breaks, making lists to keep yourself on track, or breaking a large task down into smaller pieces.
  • If you are having trouble sleeping, make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet, and do something relaxing (such as reading a book) just before bed to help you wind down.
  • When you are feeling restless, channel this feeling in a healthy direction by getting some physical activity. You can also try cutting back on caffeine.
  • If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, sit down until you feel better. When getting up from a sitting or lying position, take it slowly.
  • For headaches, try an over-the-counter pain reliever. It can also help to lie down for a few minutes, take some deep breaths, or get some fresh air.
  • When you feel hungry, snack on a healthy food that keeps your hands busy, such as carrot sticks. Drinking water can also help you feel full and keep your mind off of smoking.

Smoking triggers

Most people who are trying to quit smoking find that certain situations, places, or feelings tempt them to smoke. These "smoking triggers" can make it difficult to stay away from cigarettes.

Common smoking triggers include:

Routine parts of your day:

  • waking up in the morning
  • taking a break at work
  • drinking coffee
  • finishing a meal
  • making a phone call
  • finishing your work day
  • driving
  • playing cards
  • watching television

Social situations:

  • being at a party or a bar (especially if you are drinking alcohol)
  • visiting or going out with friends who smoke
  • watching someone else have a cigarette

Physical discomfort or unpleasant emotions:

  • hunger
  • anger
  • boredom
  • fatigue
  • loneliness
  • stress

How to handle your smoking triggers:

The first step in managing smoking triggers is to know which triggers affect you. Keep track of situations where you're tempted to smoke, and make a list of your triggers.

Next, develop a plan for how you will manage them. This may involve avoiding the trigger (such as moving into another room when other people are smoking), changing the routine that you associate with that trigger (such as sitting in a different chair to eat your meal if you typically smoke after meals), or thinking of something you can do instead of having a cigarette (such as going for a walk during your work break instead of smoking). Having a plan in place will help you stay on track when you are exposed to one of your smoking triggers.

Here are some examples:

  • If coffee is one of your smoking triggers, drink herbal tea or a glass of water instead.
  • If work breaks are a trigger for you, stay away from the smoking area during your break. Instead, read a magazine, do a puzzle, or go for a short walk with a non-smoking colleague.
  • To avoid smoking while driving, remove all cigarettes and ashtrays from your car. Try driving a different route and singing along to some music while you are driving to distract yourself from cravings.
  • To avoid smoking while talking on the phone, try using the phone in a different room or holding the phone in a different hand. Keep your hands busy by doodling with a pen.
  • To cope with stress without reaching for a cigarette, try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or taking a warm bath. Try squeezing a stress ball when you’re having a craving, and if possible, remove yourself from the stressful situation.

Above all, remember that overcoming withdrawal symptoms is about more than just finding alternatives. Staying positive and motivated is as important as avoiding triggers. Feel confident that you’re making the right choice for yourself and your loved ones, and constantly remind yourself of the many benefits that come from quitting. This will help improve your mood and make it easier to continue with your plan to quit.

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This information is provided for educational information purposes only. It is not designed or intended to constitute medical advice or to be used for diagnosis or to replace your Doctor. Consult your Pharmacist or Doctor to determine the appropriateness of the information for your specific situation. Articles and Nicotine Dependency Test tool are copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2022. Terms and conditions of use.