Coping with cravings after you quit
Few smokers can quit without feeling the urge or desire to smoke. The first week after you quit can be the hardest, as cravings can be more frequent and intense.
There are 4 main ways to deal with cravings:
- Use quitting products.
- Change your environment.
- Use coping thoughts.
- Change what you do.
1. Use quitting products
Nicotine replacement products and prescription medications work by making cravings less strong. They work best when you carefully follow the instructions. Make sure you don’t stop them too early.
2. Change your environment
Cravings occur most commonly in situations that remind you of smoking. You can reduce how often and how strongly cravings occur by making your environment ‘quitting friendly’.
Try these tips:
- Make your home and car smokefree. If that’s not possible, have at least one smokefree area for yourself.
- Make it harder for yourself to get cigarettes.
- Ask others not to smoke around you.
- Use places where you are not allowed to smoke as ‘protection’ until the craving passes.
- Avoid situations that will be tough while cravings are still intense and frequent.
Try the 4 Ds:
- Delay acting on the urge to smoke. Don’t open a pack or light a cigarette. After a few minutes, the urge to smoke will weaken, especially if you do the following.
- Deep breathe. Take a long slow breath in, and slowly out again. Repeat 3 times.
- Drink water. Sip it slowly, holding it in your mouth a little longer to savour the taste.
- Do something else. Take your mind off smoking by taking action – put on some music, go for a walk or ring a friend.
3. Using coping thoughts
The way you think about quitting can help you resist tempting situations.
Try these tips:
- Use positive ‘self-talk’. Tell yourself ‘I can quit’ or ‘I don’t need cigarettes’ or ‘I can find better ways to cope’.
- Break your smoking thought patterns. Stop thoughts that lead you to want to smoke and change them to something else.
- Remind yourself of your main reasons to quit. Carry something with you that will help you stay motivated, such as a note or picture. Think of things you want to do as a non-smoker. Use the quitting smoking checklist.
- Think of the benefits of quitting and the positive changes in your life since you stopped.
- Focus your mind on something else – try distraction, meditation, thinking of images or fantasies.
- Think about how good it will feel to show people who doubted you that you have succeeded at quitting.
- Set short-term goals such as taking 1 day at a time.
- Talk to someone about how you’re feeling.
- Challenge negative thoughts. If you think a cigarette would be nice, tell yourself ‘No, I’m not going to be suckered back.’
4. Changing what you do
To quit, you need to learn new ways to cope with things that used to trigger your smoking. As you become better at doing things instead of smoking, your cravings will tend not to happen as often or be as strong.
In the first few weeks, change your routines that are strongly linked to smoking. Take all your normal breaks but with a cup of herbal tea or other drink instead of a cigarette, or hold your cup in your other hand. Try cleaning your teeth straight after a meal, sitting in a different chair to watch TV, and having a shower as soon as you get up.
Use other things to keep your hands or mouth busy. Try fiddling with keys, beads, a stress ball, mobile phone or jewellery. Try chewing sugar-free gum, eating a healthy snack or drinking water.
If you are unsure of what to do in some situations, ask or watch what non-smokers do.
Just one will hurt
Having ‘just one’ is the way that most people go back to regular smoking.
Quitting means resisting the urge to smoke even 1 cigarette, despite the cravings, the habit, the pressure and your own emotional reasons.
Congratulate yourself every time you beat the urge to smoke.
Remember to treat yourself occasionally with the money you’ve saved, such as with a movie, a new CD, flowers or a meal out.
Refuse offers of cigarettes
You have the right to refuse a cigarette and can do so without upsetting others. Practise saying ‘No thanks, I don’t smoke’ to prepare yourself in case someone offers you a cigarette.
Stay on track
Don’t let other people talk you into having a cigarette. It’s your decision – don’t let others pressure you. Tell them ‘No’ like you mean it.
Tea, coffee, cola drinks and chocolate all contain caffeine.
Caffeine may make you restless, irritable and sleepless for a while. Without nicotine, your body retains more caffeine. Try and reduce these products and have non-caffeine drinks.
Smoking and alcohol
Many people find it hard to resist smoking when drinking. Cravings are often stronger when you are drinking and socialising. Alcohol may weaken your resolve about giving up smoking.
You need to plan for social occasions.
Some strategies when going out with friends are:
- Go to a smokefree venue.
- Resolve before you go out not to smoke.
- Have a quitting buddy or non-smoking friend with you as support.
- Avoid alcohol for a few weeks after you quit, especially in situations where you would have smoked.
If you do drink, cut down on how much you drink by alternating alcoholic drinks with glasses of water. Also, change your drink to something you don’t usually have to remind yourself that things are different.
Tell yourself it’s okay to go home early if the cravings become too hard. You can afford a taxi with the money you’ve saved by quitting.
If you have created a smoking record or quitting plan – go back to it for ideas to deal with cravings.
During the first week, make changes to your plan if you need to.
Did you use the ideas you wrote down? How are they working? Do they need changing? Are there any triggers you hadn’t thought of? Are there any new situations that you hadn’t planned for?
If you are struggling refer to your quitting checklist to remind you of the reasons why you should stop smoking.
Where to get help
Quitline is a confidential telephone support service staffed by professional advisors who are trained to provide encouragement and support to help you quit.
Phone: 13 7848 (13 QUIT) (local call rates from land line only). Advisors are available from:
- Monday to Friday 7am – 8pm
- Saturday 12.30pm – 3.30pm
- Sunday closed.
- Having ‘just 1’ cigarette is the way most people start regular smoking again. Stick to your decision to stop smoking.
- Try the 4 Ds – delay, deep breathe, drink water and do something else – to help cope with your cravings.
- Cravings can become stronger when you are drinking alcohol.
Chronic Disease Prevention Directorate
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.