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Should You Quit Smoking Cold Turkey?

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Quitting smoking is hard. According to the CDC, quitting smoking often takes several attempts.1 Despite the fact that most adult smokers want to quit, fewer than one in ten smokers succeed in quitting smoking each year.2 Why is quitting smoking so hard? Quitting isn’t tough because smokers lack willpower; it’s because nicotine is extremely addictive, and withdrawal symptoms can be intense.3

To quit smoking cold turkey may seem like the easiest way to finally be done with cigarettes, especially for someone who’s tried to quit smoking a few times already. But is white-knuckling it through withdrawal symptoms actually effective? Find out more information on the whether the cold turkey method would work for you below.

What Does Going “Cold Turkey” Mean?

Going “cold turkey” means to stop all tobacco products at once and fight your way through any withdrawal symptoms.4 Rather than using nicotine replacement products or medicine, the cold turkey approach requires you to cut out all nicotine products from your life from the get-go. There is no weaning off period for nicotine for smokers who quit cold turkey.

Quitting cigarettes cold turkey is extremely difficult. Research over the past 25 years has shown that while some people can quit with the cold turkey method, at least 95 percent of people can't.9 But, using nicotine replacement therapy products can increase your chances of success and help make quitting more successful.

What Are Common Issues When Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey?

The cold turkey method has its drawbacks. Before you quit smoking cold turkey, it’s important to understand the difficulties. Quitting cold turkey can disrupt your body’s chemical balance and cause or worsen nicotine withdrawal symptoms.5 The withdrawal symptoms of quitting smoking cold turkey may include:

  • Restlessness
  • Cravings
  • Depressed mood
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Digestive issues
  • Anxiety
  • Poor sleep6

Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal vary in duration and severity depending on the person.6 However, the success rate of quitting cold turkey is only 3% and the side effects can be difficult, so it’s useful to know about them before you try the cold turkey method.

Why a Quitting Plan with Behavioral Support is Better Than Cold Turkey

“Most people who try to quit smoking “cold turkey” are very determined and eager to quit at the beginning, then when the intense cravings hit, they relapse and feel worse about themselves and their habit,” says Margaret Linn, addiction counselor and the tobacco dependence specialist at Amethyst Recovery Center in Florida.

According to Linn, developing a plan that covers both the physical and mental challenges that come with quitting has more possibilities for success in the long term. The CDC agrees, citing evidence that using both counseling and some kind of medication during a quit journey is more successful than doing only one of those things.7

Linn advises her patients to take the time to develop a strategy before tossing their cigarettes. In addition to picking a quit date, developing a strong support system, and stocking up on oral substitutes (like sugar free gum or sugar-free candy), Linn recommends adding nicotine replacement products to the mix.

Nicotine Replacement Products Help Improve Success

“Nicotine replacements, while not a cure-all, can help lessen withdrawal symptoms and increase one’s success rate,” says Linn. And studies agree with her. According to one clinical study, nicotine replacement products have been shown to double chances of quitting when measured against a placebo.8

If you’re looking for a nicotine replacement product that’s easy to use and designed to help you at every stage of your quitting journey, try the Nicoderm®CQ® patch. It releases a steady flow of nicotine for up to 24 hours, relieving your cravings* and helping you reach that long-term success you’ve been searching for.

Or, explore Nicorette® gum and lozenges. Combined with a behavioral support plan, Nicorette® products can help to increase your success in quitting smoking.

*Craving relief associated with quitting smoking. Individual results vary.

How to Quit Smoking Cold Turkey, If It’s Still The Route For You

If you’re still interested in giving up cigarettes cold turkey, here are some general tips:

  • Make a quit-smoking plan that covers why, when, and how you plan to stop smoking to help you stay organized and stick to your goals.
  • Set a concrete quit date to give up smoking, so that you don’t put off starting your quit-smoking plan.
  • Remind yourself of the reasons why you want to quit smoking, including the many health benefits of quitting.
  • After you make your plan, remove any temptations in the household, such as matches, ash trays, and boxes of cigarettes.
  • Be ready for withdrawal symptoms. Have a plan of action for how you will handle symptoms like cravings, headaches, feelings of restlessness, and more.
  • Reach out to friends, family, or other former smokers to tell them about your plan. Quitting smoking is hard, especially when you quit cold turkey. A support system will come in handy when you feel the craving for a cigarette.
  • Stay busy with healthy habits such as running, or pick up a new hobby such as playing an instrument. While keeping busy on its own probably isn’t enough to help you quit smoking, it may help support you in the process.

SOURCES:

1-2.Smoking Cessation: Fast Facts | Smoking & Tobacco Use. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/cessation/smoking-cessation-fast-facts/index.html. Accessed 1/12/2021. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

3-6.Dangers of Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey. Gateway Foundation. https://www.gatewayfoundation.org/addiction-blog/dangers-quitting-smoking-cold-turkey/. Accessed 1/12/2021. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

7.Smoking Cessation: Fast Facts | Smoking & Tobacco Use. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/cessation/smoking-cessation-fast-facts/index.html. Accessed 1/12/2021. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

8Efficacy of a nicotine lozenge for smoking cessation. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12038945/. Accessed 2/9/2021.

9Read this before trying to quit smoking cold turkey. Truth Initiative. https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/quitting-smoking-vaping/read-trying-quit-smoking-cold-turkey/ Accessed 1/25/2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.