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10 Tactics to Help Stop Your Cigarette Cravings

There’s a reason it takes most smokers several attempts to successfully quit smoking: cigarette cravings happen, and they can be tough to beat. Though you’ve made the decision to stop smoking, your body—and its systems that have been impacted by a tobacco habit—takes time to adjust. Cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive chemical that keeps you coming back for more.1 When you stop smoking and you aren’t absorbing nicotine anymore, your body and brain will miss the rush of dopamine that nicotine releases. This is why you’ll likely have to fight cigarette cravings in the weeks and months after quitting. Smoking cravings can be difficult to manage, especially in the early days of your quit smoking journey. But overcoming them is possible.

By avoiding your craving triggers (such as drinking coffee or alcohol, hanging out with other smokers, visiting places you used to smoke, etc.) you may be able to lessen the frequency and severity of your cravings, as well as break the association between those triggers and smoking.2 You should also have several strategies at hand to help fend off cravings when they occur. Read on for tactics you can try.

Strategies to Manage Cigarette Cravings

When you feel the urge to smoke, don’t let the cigarette cravings win. Although you may feel tempted to “just smoke one” to kick the craving, this can quickly spin into a rekindled habit. Instead, try out these strategies for switching up your focus and distracting, calming or energizing your mind and body.

  1. Get moving
    Nicotine withdrawal can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety and restlessness.3 Rather than turn back to cigarettes for a temporary “hit” of happiness, try out some physical activity for endorphins. Whether that looks like taking a walk outside and enjoying some fresh air or hitting the gym and working up a sweat, engaging in physical activity can naturally improve your mood and reduce your stress.4
  2. Eat a healthy snack
    Hunger can leave you feeling irritable, especially when hunger is combined with nicotine withdrawal. To distract from cravings and reduce that “hangry” feeling, reach for a healthy snack like carrot sticks, celery, pickles, apples, etc. If you find you miss the feeling of occupying your mouth with a cigarette or chewing tobacco, look for oral substitutes like mints, sugar-free gum, or hard candies to keep your mouth busy.4
  3. Practice deep breathing
    You might be surprised by how powerful breathwork can be to work through cravings. When a craving hits, practice taking long, slow deep breaths. Focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth for a few minutes or until your heart rate has slowed and you feel more relaxed.5
  4. Distract yourself with an activity
    Can’t stop thinking about cigarettes? Put your mind on something else that requires focus, like a jigsaw puzzle, crossword or sudoku. Consider reading a few pages from a book or picking up a craft, like knitting or crocheting. All of these activities can help shift your attention and may calm you down if you feel tense. If you can, try to keep a portable activity with you (like a book of crosswords) so you have it close by whenever a craving strikes.
  5. Call someone for support
    Sometimes, overcoming the urge to smoke requires backup. There’s no shame in asking for support, whether from friends or family, a doctor or professional trained in helping people quit, or an online or in-person support group.6 If you aren’t sure who to talk to or need some encouragement right away, you can always call the national quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW to speak with an expert.6
  6. Drink water
    Thirst has a way of disguising itself as other feelings. Dehydration can cause feelings of anxiety, lower your blood pressure leading to dizziness, and leave you with hunger-like feelings.7 It’s best to drink water throughout the day to keep hydration levels up, but drinking a tall glass of water may also help mitigate some cigarette cravings that stem from thirst.
  7. Take a shower or bath
    Nicotine withdrawal heightens feelings of stress and anxiety, and you might have trouble relaxing before bed, especially if that was a time you used to smoke.6 If you’re feeling tense or agitated in the evening, treat yourself to a warm, luxurious bath or shower to calm down.
  8. Revisit your reasons for quitting
    Put a stop to your smoking craving by remembering your “why.” Think about all the reasons you decided to quit smoking in the first place: your health, saving money, friends and family, etc. Consider writing a list of these reasons if you haven’t already.
  9. Try nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
    You don’t have to manage your cravings all on your own. NRT can ease cravings by providing a therapeutic dose of nicotine.5 Nicorette Gum and Lozenges help you gradually reduce your nicotine intake and lessen the severity of cravings, helping you to stick with your quit.
  10. Tell yourself affirmations
    Remind yourself that you are strong, capable and you’ve made it this far—so why not keep it up? Out loud, tell yourself you won’t give into your cravings. Affirm your decision to quit. And praise yourself for staying strong. While it might sound a little silly, you may find the more often you repeat these things to yourself, the more you’ll believe them.
References
  1. Nicotine Is Why Tobacco Products Are Addictive. FDA. https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/health-effects-tobacco-use/nicotine-why-tobacco-products-are-addictive. Accessed 9/27/21.
  2. Coping with Cravings. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/quit-smoking/stop-smoking-coping-with-cravings/. Accessed 9/27/21.
  3. 7 Common Withdrawal Symptoms. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/quit-smoking/7-common-withdrawal-symptoms/index.html. Accessed 9/27/21.
  4. Help for Cravings and Tough Situations While You're Quitting Tobacco. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/healthy/stay-away-from-tobacco/guide-quitting-smoking/quitting-smoking-help-for-cravings-and-tough-situations.html. Accessed 9/27/21.
  5. How to Manage Cravings. SmokeFree. https://smokefree.gov/challenges-when-quitting/cravings-triggers/how-manage-cravings. Accessed 9/27/21.
  6. Quitting Smoking: Coping With Cravings and Withdrawal. Michigan Medicine. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/zp4066. Accessed 9/27/21.
  7. Dehydration and Anxiety. NoPanic.org. https://nopanic.org.uk/dehydration-anxiety/

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