Skip the Smokes: A Guide to Overcoming Cigarette Cravings

by Sugar Team August 10, 2022 7 min read

cigarettes in ashtrays

You've probably quit a thousand times. But this time, it's different. This time, you're going to stick to your plan and ditch smokes for good. First, you have to get through the tough part: overcoming cigarette cravings.

It can be a difficult task and one that seems impossible without help. However, there are ways to get past the cravings and kick nicotine out of your life for good. 

Below, we'll walk you through the first two weeks of the process, explaining what to expect and arming you with specific, actionable, steps to get you over the hump.

What are cigarette cravings?

When a person stops smoking, they will experience withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings for cigarettes. That's because the body has become used to nicotine, a highly addictive substance found in tobacco products. 

When trying to quit, these cravings can come on suddenly and without warning. They can be physical (like feeling anxious or jittery) or mental (like thinking about how good a cigarette would taste).

Cravings can last for just a few seconds, or up to several minutes. And while one craving may not seem like much, it can add up quickly throughout the day, breaking down your defenses and getting you back on the nicotine train.

Day 1

The first day is always the hardest. You're likely to experience some intense cravings, along with other symptoms like irritability, anxiety, and trouble concentrating. 

To get through it, we recommend the following: 

  • Distract yourself. When a craving hits, try to do something else to take your mind off cigarettes. Take a walk, call a friend, or read a book. 

  • Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated will help your body detox and will also make cravings less intense.

  • Keep your hands busy. Fidgeting can help to take the edge off of cravings, so try to keep your hands occupied whenever possible. 

These seem like simple things, but they can make a big difference when you're trying to overcome cigarette cravings and make it through that first day.

 

girl stressed at desk

Day 2-3

Depending on how often you smoked, the second and third days are going to be challenging; there's no getting around it, unfortunately. You need to treat these days as the most important part of the process. 

Here's what you need to do: 

  • Avoid triggers. If there are certain activities or places that make you want to smoke, do your best to avoid them. This may mean changing your routine or even avoiding some people for a while. 

  • Get rid of cigarettes and ashtrays. Throw away all of your cigarettes, lighters, and ashtrays. Seeing these things will only make cravings worse. 

  • Stock up on gum and hard candy. Having something to put in your mouth can help satisfy cravings. Even if you don’t like it, pop in a piece of flavorful gum and start chomping. 

  • Get some exercise. Exercise can help take the edge off of cravings and also help to reduce withdrawal symptoms. 

These tips will help you get through the next few days, but they won't be easy. You'll have to be strong and stay focused on your goal.

Day 4-7

While you may still feel on-edge at day four, rest assured – you are probably past the worst cravings. By the end of it, almost all smokers have completely rid their bodies of nicotine; the headaches, dizziness, and irritability should have somewhat subsided. 

That doesn't mean the fight is won, though. Triggers will naturally start reappearing in your life as you get more complacent. For the rest of the week, make sure you: 

  • Have a plan for triggers. When you encounter a trigger, have a specific plan to deal with it. For example, if you know that a morning coffee reminds you of cigarettes, make a smoothie instead, or don’t stop on your way to work.

  • Avoid high-risk situations. There will be some situations where it's just too tempting to smoke. Do your best to avoid these as much as possible. If that means saying no to trivia night at the bar, your friends will understand.

  • Be patient with yourself. It takes time to adjust to this new lifestyle, so don't get upset with yourself if you have a craving. We often tell ourselves that we are stronger than the average person but when it comes to addiction, there’s no reason to place blame. 

By the end of this week, you should start to feel more like yourself again. The cravings will still come, but they'll be less frequent and easier to deal with.

 

friends helping circle

Day 8-14

Cigarette craving guides typically help you through the first few days, but then wrongly assume you'll be cured by the end of a week. This is simply not the case. You might find yourself still struggling with irritability or frustration well into the second week. 

A common thought that creeps into one's head at this point is "maybe I'm just meant to be a smoker." That little nicotine voice will try to tell you anything for one last puff, which starts the whole thing over again. But you're stronger than that, and you know it. 

To get through the second week, we recommend that you:

  • Find a support group. There are groups of people just like you who are trying to quit smoking. Finding a community of quitters can help you stay on track and motivated. 

  • Get some sleep. Nicotine withdrawal can cause insomnia, so make sure you're getting enough rest.

  • Eat healthy. Eating nutritious meals will help your body heal and will make cravings less intense. 

  • Avoid alcohol. Drinking can make cravings worse, so it's best to avoid alcohol until you're through the worst of it. 

The second week is tough, but if you can get through it, you'll be well on your way to quitting for good.

Day 15+

Remember that this isn't a short-term battle. There will be cravings in the future, even years later, that will try to knock you off the wagon. Perhaps it is a moment of immense stress, or even of great elation. 

You'll think something harmless like "I wonder if it tastes different after all this time." For some people, having one puff won't cause any issues but even if you think you're strong, the physiological effect could send you spiralling back. 

Here are some long-term strategies for staying a non-smoker: 

  • Try tobacco alternatives. Sometimes it is the ritual that you miss, not the nicotine. In this case, try tobacco alternatives like CBD cigarettes to squash those cravings for good. 

  • Change your routine. If there are certain times or activities when you always smoked in the past, try to change things up. This might mean taking a different route to work or avoiding places where you used to smoke. 

  • Stay active. Living a healthy lifestyle is a huge part of resisting addiction, and you should attempt to continue eating healthy and exercising regularly. 

  • Talk to your doctor. If you're having a hard time staying smoke-free, talk to your doctor about medications that can help. There are many options available that can make it easier to quit for good. 

Quitting smoking is a journey, not a destination. It takes time, effort, and dedication. But it is possible to overcome cigarette cravings and live a smoke-free life.

 

cigarettes

Most common cigarette craving triggers and how to neutralize them

Cigarette cravings can be triggered by a variety of things, but some are more common than others. Here are the most frequent triggers and how you can overcome them:

Boredom

Boredom is often cited as a major trigger for cigarette cravings. And it makes sense – when you're bored, you're looking for anything to do, even if it's something harmful like smoking. The best way to combat this trigger is to proactively fill your time. 

That means not waiting around until you’re bored to find something to do but planning a full day of responsibilities or activities to make sure you don’t have time to think about smoking. 

Anxiety

Cigarettes can be used as a way to self-soothe when you're feeling anxious. But of course, this is just a temporary fix and does nothing to address the underlying anxiety. To overcome this trigger, try some deep breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation. 

These techniques will help you calm down at the moment and over time will help reduce your anxiety levels overall.

Stress

Like anxiety, stress is often cited as a trigger for cigarette cravings. And again, this makes sense – cigarettes can be used as a way to escape uncomfortable situations. But like anxiety, this is just a temporary fix that does nothing to address the underlying stressors in your life. 

To overcome this craving trigger, you’ll have to do some real work on your situation to confront the issues that are stressing you out and solve them instead of just going outside for a puff. 

Maybe that means paying the bills ahead of time, or making that dreaded call to a relative; whatever it is, don’t use it as an excuse to pick up a pack.

Habit

Cigarettes can become a part of your daily routine, making it difficult to break the habit. Try to find a replacement for cigarettes that can become part of your new routine. This could be something like chewing gum, eating candy, or grabbing a nicotine alternative like CBD cigarettes.

Do you always smoke on your way to work? Ask a non-smoking co-worker to carpool for a few days. Need a cigarette before bed? Brush your teeth early to break up the nighttime routine. 

Fatigue

Nicotine withdrawal can cause fatigue, so you may find yourself feeling tired more often when you first quit smoking, and talk yourself into “needing” the cigarette to function. 

To overcome this trigger, make sure to get plenty of rest and exercise. Exercise will help to boost your energy levels and improve your overall sense of well-being.

Final thoughts

It's not going to be easy, but it is possible to overcome your cigarette cravings. Just remember to be patient, take things one day at a time, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.



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