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I’ve quit for 4 days – when do the cravings go away?!

Dear Advisor,

I’ve stopped smoking now for 4 days and am finding it really hard today. I’ve got a headache and feel sick – is it because I’ve stopped smoking? How long do cravings last?

Signed,
In a Funk

Dear Funk,

A headache is one of the classic nicotine withdrawal symptoms, so it’s quite likely this is because you have just quit, especially if you quit cold turkey. I’m not sure about the ‘feeling sick.’ If you mean you feel nauseous and achey, you may simply have the flu. If you’re referring to a general feeling of malaise – listlessness, respiratory issues, etc., those may well be withdrawal symptoms. The good news is, these symptoms will pass, generally within a few days if not sooner, provided you don’t return to smoking. (Intermittent cigarettes may feel like they temporarily relieve some of the withdrawal, but in the long run it just makes them go on for longer.)

You also ask ‘how long the cravings will last.’ The answer to that question is much more complicated. First, it’s worth nothing that withdrawal symptoms and ‘cravings’ are very much different processes, produced by entirely different body systems.

Withdrawal symptoms are a function of the physical addiction to nicotine, and will pass with no particular effort from you, as long as you stay away from nicotine.

“Cravings” can be a result of both the physical addiction to nicotine, and the psychological dependence on smoking. The physical addiction portion of the craving is likely already done for you, since you’re on Day 4 of not smoking. (It generally takes the body about three days to flush the nicotine from your system.)

However, most people experience cravings or urges to smoke long past the three-day mark. These desires to smoke are part of the psychological dependence on smoking, which is much more pervasive and difficult to eliminate than the physical addiction.

How long these cravings last depend in part on how you deal with them. So here’s some advice around that:

The very WORST thing you can do is give in to a craving and have a smoke. This is like feeding a dog from the table, just once. You know what happens, right? The dog will keep coming back to the table, hoping to be fed again.

An improvement on this approach is to distract yourself when you have a desire to smoke – this is the advice you normally get, and is certainly better than giving in. And if you continue to do this, the urges will eventually go away. Go for a walk, do a crossword puzzle, turn the radio up and dance and sing along… Whatever you need to do to get through it.

A more direct approach is to begin to look at where the desire is coming from to begin with. What triggered it? If you used to smoke when something stressful happened, when that happens now, you’ll have a strong urge to smoke. Instead of simply distracting yourself, consider learning and using techniques for actually dealing with stress.

If you used smoking to relax or reward yourself in the past, you’ll have strong urges under those conditions. Thoughtfully (and perhaps in advance?) choose some healthier ways to reward yourself, and employ those instead.

Finally, you can ‘examine the urge.’ When you get an urge to smoke, stop for a moment, sit quietly, and scan your body – what does it actually feel like? For instance, some folks will say they ‘feel like they’re going to explode’ or ‘feel like they’re going crazy.’ Instead, break this down into bodily sensations: Are your hands clenched? Pressure in your head or chest? Shoulders tight? Notice the body sensations, and allow yourself to feel them directly for a moment, instead of ‘interpreting’ them. Then, if you can ‘fix’ any of them (for instance, by consciously relaxing your shoulders) feel free to do so.

The urge will pass in 2-3 minutes in any case, but sometimes looking the ‘demon’ in the face can help make it less scary and help the cravings fade away more quickly. In contrast, trying to ‘avoid’ the urge or pushing it away can actually give it energy.

In my program, I walk folks through these techniques step-by-step. If you’re still smoke-free, the program may not be for you, since it starts with a two-week tapering-and-switching strategy to minimize withdrawal symptoms. But for anyone who is still looking to quit, it may be very helpful.

In any case, I wish you the very best of luck – hang in there!

Deanna.

{ 33 comments… add one }

  • Dawn July 1, 2013, 11:06 AM

    I quit smoking 3 days ago and I get so anxious I just want to scream. I have been so hungry . The problem is I can’t just eat everything, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes so I have to watch my weight. I need to know how long before the anxiety and cravings just go away. This is the hardest thing I ever had to do.

  • molly October 21, 2014, 10:45 AM

    if i have been smoking for 32 years non stop how long will it take for my cravins to go away

  • molly October 21, 2014, 10:48 AM

    how long will it take for my cravings to go away

  • Alex May 26, 2015, 11:01 AM

    The cravings will pass. Face them and they will be defeated.

  • Angelique September 30, 2015, 5:33 AM

    Hey there guys I know how you guys feel I’m also one the quiting stage it has been 11 days and trust me it gets better I feel it sometimes but not strong, I remind myself that I’m becoming heltier and with the money I used for this habit I now use to treat myself to something I really want to do cause let’s face it its tiering to fight against yourself so relaxing is what you need too hold on past the 14 day mark the worst is over past the 30 day mark your body is healing past the 6 month mark there is no trace in your body of ever smoking
    You can do it I know you can
    Ps although I don’t know you I’m sure your stronger that this habbit that is killing you.

  • John January 16, 2016, 8:57 PM

    Hey guys … I stop on Nov 10. Right before thanks giving…boy did I mess up since I really have the need after I eat or drink.. But I made it no smoking to this day. I say all this because most here talk of two or three days or a week. Let me tell you now am about two and a half months without and I still have or get the cravings. You just have to be strong and keep in mind why ur quiting. May dad sister and I all quit cold turkey. In short the craving do go Eventually just telling ur self benefits of Quitting.

  • Dan Hughes March 1, 2016, 9:45 PM

    Yes, what I’ve learned so far is it’s all about one day at a time. I’m now 5 day’s in and it is super hard but I’m keeping focused. We can really begin to appreciate tobacco for how evil it really is.

    I mean how is this stuff legal? I don’t think it would even be a big problem to quit, if I knew I couldn’t get them, so easily.

    Keep on keeping on guy’s, don’t let evil tobacco win here… We ARE stronger than this horrible addiction!

    • Beth March 9, 2016, 4:09 PM

      That’s right, Dan! I am 48 hours in! I smoked heavily for 27 years! And let me tell you, this is the MOST difficult thing I have ever tried to accomplish! But I CAN DO IT! We are stronger than the control and addiction that are these cigarettes! It’s all about being in the moment and dealing with each craving head on as they come! This discomfort of withdrawal is only temporary!

      • chezmah April 1, 2016, 7:53 AM

        It can be done…. and we can do it !!!! Its tough at times … the urge grabs you but just look at it straight in the face and say no…. not interested in giving in.
        I’ve quite now for a bit over a month… have been smoking (hard core) for 50 years.
        The urge to pick up a cigarette is still there quite often… but if i just hold on a sec … stop and think about it…. well… i face the urge and think : even though i wantto pick up a cigarette… I do not want to smoke it … so dont bother picking it up…..
        I have not in over a month… i am neverless hoping that this “urge” to pick up a cigarette dies off. I am going to try to stop and sit down when the urge comes on and just think about how i feel (usually tense) and then spend a minute just relaxing my body and mind…
        will let you know if it helps.
        chezmah

    • Mommyoffour November 3, 2016, 7:23 PM

      I totally agree. I’m day three in. Last I smoked was Halloween. It was actually easier to quit meth, coke, crack and weed than it is to quit cigarettes. Crazy! But, I know in my heart if I can quit the hard stuff for my babies, I can quit this for my babies too!!!

    • Alana February 9, 2017, 4:07 AM

      I believe the government allows cigarettes to be sold because the fact is they make truckloads of tax on every packet sold! So much for their quit programs!

  • ddd April 8, 2016, 11:27 AM

    i smoked for 20 years, i put down my last cig 18 days ago damn this is hard my wife is taking the brunt of this but we will get threw it. I will never put a cancer stick in my mouth AGAIN.

  • Robyn August 18, 2016, 10:58 PM

    I have now been tobacco free for 53 day and are still getting strong urges to smoke. Not nearly as often or as bad but different and at differing times of the day. I did given in a couple of times but felt very depressed afterwards and felt ashamed but I am still resolve to give up and have not bought a packet for 55 days. I have been crying quite a bit lately and have put it down to the grieving process. Does any one have some advise?

    • Heather March 10, 2017, 7:56 PM

      I know this was posted awhile ago but this is 100% my issues right now . I am 60 days smoke free and today has been one of the hardest I have had in a month . If you have any advice please let me know !

  • Brett September 15, 2016, 12:09 AM

    I was a moron and started smoking at 22 years old. Well old enough to know how bad it was. Well I am 34 years old now and decided today that I’m done. It’s been i’d say 12 hours and I have the urge(obviously what led me here). I wont pick another one up. I’m coming back here and updating this after week one. This is going to be shitty i know it but… it HAS TO BE DONE.

  • YUSCHANA COLE September 24, 2016, 5:08 PM

    Hello

    I quit smoking cold turkey over a year ago and I still have urges is that normal

    • Jac November 23, 2017, 7:55 AM

      No. That’s not normal at all. It’s normal to have a day of cravings that comes out of the blue but not as something you have to live with. For you, it’s psychological. There’s a hole in your heart or your head that cigarettes were filling. Find out what is missing, what meaning did you give to the habit? What was it replacing? Do you love yourself? Focus on yourself and care for yourself the same way you would a pet you love. Every craving needs to be met with a positive message “something wonderful is happening”. If you fight your cravings with negative messages “This is really hard, no I can’t smoke” etc, it gets stronger. It’s like a naughty child that needs his/her tantrums (cravings) dealt with in a way to prevent them in the first place and stop them getting worse. Your addiction is the toddler who throws tantrums and those tantrums can continue past toddler hood if you give in to him/her and encourage the tantrums

  • ranny October 12, 2016, 11:52 AM

    hi guys ..i entered into the 5th non smoking day … lets go on .

    tomorrow going to the office which is a challenge for me because it was the birth place of that habit .

  • Carl October 26, 2016, 5:07 AM

    Hello Everyone, This is my 5th time quitting. I’m on day 7 and the urges do get fewer but…the ones you do get are intense! I read about the terrible 3’s. Meaning 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months. I believe everyone’s different and just know you can and more importantly…Have to quit. Remember this, even a half cigarette is too many and 1000 is not enough. For me these days the urges are harder to fight off. I think my body wants nicotine! I must stay defiant and tell this habit to F*&K OFF! Carry on your fight people, your my inspiration!

  • Kelly November 23, 2016, 3:36 PM

    I am on day 15, my cravings are worse then last week. I have gained 7 pounds in 15 days!! UGH!

  • michelle November 24, 2016, 2:57 PM

    I quit three days ago, although have cheated and had half a one twice a day. The cravings were like severe hunger but ‘more’ on top ( can’t describe that bit) they have lessened but I’m wondering if future cravings will be the physical or because of ‘habit. I smoked for 43 years. anybody got any advice?

    Michelle

    • Judie January 14, 2017, 10:59 AM

      Sounds like your cravings will be both physical and habit. I hope you have hung in there. I feel so much better (9 days) but I’ve only smoked for about 30 years. Having a spouse smoke makes it a bit harder but I have to do what is best for me and always keep that at the fore front of my thoughts.

  • Judie January 14, 2017, 8:55 AM

    Today is day 9 for me. I’ve had a chest cold so that has helped to give me a reason to quit. My main question is….What do you do if your spouse still smokes? We were both smokers when we first met so I can’t expect him to quit because I have. Also, how long before I can feel that I have truly become a non smoker?

    • Alana February 9, 2017, 4:18 AM

      Hi Judie. I would ask my spouse to please find somewhere outside the house to smoke and tell him how much this means to you and your health to quit. As horrible as this sounds, the smell of his clothes will be enough to make you never want to smoke again! Also, seeing you quit may eventually inspire him to do likewise! I’m getting into my first month off smoking. It’s really hard, but I’m determined more than ever now to quit! Asking God to help me stay quitting has been a huge help for me.

  • Tp January 16, 2017, 8:39 AM

    Thanks everyone just reading your posts has helped . I’m on day 14 and the urges are still there. But still not smoking.

    • Elizabeth Clarke-Hippsley September 25, 2017, 11:43 AM

      It’s helping me too by reading everyone’s comments

  • Lorraine January 21, 2017, 7:59 AM

    I am now on day 5 and God I am struggling today wish I could have one I have a vape but haven’t used that either fine for hours then bang it hits you want to keep going I’m driving myself nuts lol

  • Debbie February 1, 2017, 2:09 PM

    I totally quit smoking 5 months ago. I was doing okay and then 1 month ago I started smoking 1 cigarette a day. I just needed it so bad. This has helped my urge somewhat, but I still have my daytime urges. I’m still eating too much, gained weight and my blood sugar is sky high. I don’t know what to do.

  • nick September 18, 2017, 6:12 PM

    its not hard….it’s an illusion, you thinking about it and talking about it often gives it limbs and makes it real. its done you’re already did it you are there day one or 1000. it’s something that has to be done regardless of whatever excuse you wanna come up with and thats it.

    Day: does not matter
    ex-smoker

  • Juanita November 7, 2017, 1:35 PM

    This is week 3 and my moods are awful while trying to stop smooking .I’m eating way to much and have gained so much wieght.Anyonr have any sudgestions on other things than eating.My worst time for eating are through the nite as I work at nite.OMG this is so hard

  • Susan November 14, 2017, 4:58 PM

    Susan
    I’m on day 3 being a non-smoker. Still craving, but I have found a helpful motion. Why it works don’t know. Stand up, take a very large breath in and exhale completely. Do this 2 more times. I have been doing this for 3 days whenever the urges get bad. Tell yourself your ridding your body of nicotine. It’s helping me?

  • Bob D November 20, 2017, 7:01 PM

    Today is day 5 without smoking WOW how did I allow something so small make me do some of the dumbest crap in the name of enjoying something that was KILLING ME !! Help so body give me some advice please!! Good luck to all of you who have made this decision !! Love you all !! Bob D !!

  • roland December 9, 2017, 10:52 PM

    13 days 9 hours 46minutes. I know this exactly because i downloaded an app called smoke free it helped me keep track of what is going on in my body and how many cigarettes i did not smoke or how much money i saved it also gives you goals for each day to do. I did not do it but it can help someone. I am still in the middle of the battle but my advice is download the app and tell everyone you know you quit so you show them you are strong and stand by ur word it should help push you not to brake. good luck

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