Coping with cravings
If you can control your cravings for a cigarette, you'll significantly boost your chances of quitting.
The most effective way to tackle cravings is a combination of stop smoking medicines and behavioural changes.
Going cold turkey may be appealing and works for some, but research suggests that willpower alone isn't the best method to stop smoking.
In fact, only 3 in every 100 smokers manage to stop permanently this way.
Using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and other stop smoking medicines can double your chances of quitting successfully compared with willpower alone.
This is because untreated cravings often result in lapses.
Read more about stop smoking treatments available on the NHS and privately.
Cravings happen because your body misses its regular hits of nicotine.
There are 2 types of craving.
The steady and constant background craving for a cigarette decreases in intensity over several weeks after quitting.
Sudden bursts of an intense desire or urge to smoke are often triggered by a cue, such as having a few drinks, feeling very happy or sad, having an argument, feeling stressed, or even having a cup of coffee.
These urges to smoke tend to get less frequent over time, but their intensity can remain strong even after many months of quitting.
There are 3 tried and tested ways to tame cravings:
- nicotine replacement therapy
- prescription stop smoking medicines
- behaviour changes
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) gives your body the nicotine it craves without the toxic chemicals that you get in cigarettes, so it doesn't cause cancer.
It helps you stop smoking without having unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
NRT won't give you the same «hit» or pleasure you would expect from a cigarette, but it does help reduce cravings.
NRT is available as gum, patches, lozenges, microtabs, inhalator, nasal spray, mouth spray and oral strips.
It's important to use the right NRT product for your lifestyle.
Some products, the patch, release nicotine into your system slowly and steadily, so they're ideal for relieving background cravings.
Others, such as the nasal spray and mouth spray, release nicotine quickly in short bursts, so they're better suited to sudden intense cravings.
A good strategy is to use the nicotine patch to manage the steady and constant background cravings, and carry a fast-working product with you to deal with the sudden intense cravings.
Discuss the NRT products available over the counter with your pharmacist, or talk to your local NHS stop smoking adviser or GP about receiving NRT on prescription.
Read more about nicotine replacement therapy.
The prescription tablets Zyban (bupropion) and Champix (varenicline) are an alternative to NRT in helping you stop smoking.
They don't contain nicotine, but work on your brain to dampen cravings.
As they take a few days to work fully, you need to start these medicines for a week or two before you stop smoking.
Ask your doctor or a local stop smoking adviser whether prescription medicines may help you.
Read more about prescription stop smoking medicines.
NRT and stop smoking medicines can help curb cravings, but they can't completely eradicate them.
There are some additional things that can help.
For you, some events or times of the day may have a strong association with smoking: after food, with a coffee, after putting the kids to bed, when chatting to a friend, or having an alcoholic drink.
Try doing something different at these times. You don't have to make this change forever, just until you have broken the association with smoking.
Expect your cravings to be at their worst in the first few weeks after quitting.
The good news is that they'll pass, and the quickest way to achieve this is to commit to the «not a single drag» rule.
When you're ready to stop for good, promise yourself «I won't even have a single drag on a cigarette».
If you feel smoking, remember «not a single drag» to help the feeling pass.
Physical activity may help reduce your nicotine cravings and relieve some withdrawal symptoms.
It may also help you reduce stress and keep your weight down.
When you have the urge to smoke, do something active instead.
Going to the gym or local swimming pool are good, as is a little gentle exercise a short walk, or something useful doing the housework or gardening.
Find out how to do more exercise
Expect cravings at special events holidays, funerals or weddings.
You may have never experienced these before as a non-smoker, so you'll associate them strongly with smoking. Have some fast-acting NRT with you just in case.
Get more self-help tips to stop smoking
When an urge to smoke strikes, remember that although it may be intense, it'll be shortlived and will probably pass within a few minutes.
Each time you resist a craving, you're 1 step closer to stopping smoking.
Find out what to do if you relapse after quitting smoking
Page last reviewed: 25 October 2018
Next review due: 25 October 2021
What is nicotine withdrawal?
When you stop smoking, your body craves nicotine. In the first few days and weeks after stopping, you will ly feel some nicotine withdrawals. It's easier to deal with nicotine withdrawal when you know what to expect.
Nicotine is the addictive drug in tobacco. When you quit smoking you may experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms. These are temporary physical and emotional changes. Think of them as signs that your body is recovering from smoking.
Common nicotine withdrawal symptoms:
- Urges to smoke or cravings
- Restlessness or difficulty concentrating
- Sleeping difficulties and sleep disturbances
- Irritability, anger, anxiety, crying, sadness or depression
- Increase in hunger or weight gain
Less common nicotine withdrawal symptoms:
- Cold symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and sneezing
- Constipation, diarrhoea, stomach aches or nausea
- Dizziness or feeling light-headed
- Mouth ulcers
Nicotine withdrawal symptoms usually begin a few hours after your last cigarette. They are usually strongest in the first week. For most people, nicotine withdrawal fade and are gone after about 2 to 4 weeks. Chat to your doctor or a Quitline counsellor if you find that nicotine withdrawal is lasting longer.
- Quitline can offer you a number of calls, especially in the first few weeks, to help you stay on track.
- Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products such as gum, mouth spray, patches and lozenges can reduce withdrawal symptoms.
- Prescribed stop smoking tablets can also reduce withdrawal symptoms.
- Doing exercise you enjoy can help reduce cravings and nicotine withdrawal.
NRT helps by replacing some of the nicotine you would normally get from a cigarette. You may still get cravings but NRT products take the edge off. Using NRT can help to reduce withdrawal symptoms.
If you are using NRT products but still have strong withdrawal, take a look at how you use them.
With the mouth spray some people spray it onto their throat instead of under their tongue or on the inside of their cheek. You don't puff the inhaler a cigarette, but instead take lots of little sips.
To learn how to use NRT products, visit their individual page: patches, gum, mouth spray, lozenge, inhaler.
Nicotine patches, lozenges and gum are available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) at a discounted rate. See your doctor for a prescription.
If you're thinking of NRT, we recommend combination therapy: using patches plus a fast-acting NRT product mouth spray or lozenge.
Also, to get the most from NRT products, try to use them for at least 8 weeks.
These medications are designed to reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Ask your doctor about these medications.
Keep reminding yourself of the good things that are happening to your body. Now that you have quit smoking, your body has begun to repair.
Call Quitline for tips or request a Quitline callback.
Last updated October 2021.
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We know that smoking is expensive, but what about quitting? Stop smoking medications nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and prescribed stop smoking tablets are more affordable than you might think.
There are many quitting options and methods out there.
How do you decide what's best? Watch the video and read below to learn more about the different types of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT): nicotine patches, gum, mouth spray, lozenges and inhalator. It’s also a good idea to speak to your doctor or pharmacist before starting NRT, so they can help you work out which types will suit you best.
Your queries answered with our quick guide to using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).
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