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Managing Cravings when you Stop Smoking 

Insulin Resistance

Why is it so challenging to stop?

Tobacco smoking has been described as one of the most challenging behaviours to overcome. Combining the addictive properties of nicotine with the habitual aspect of smoking can lead to an onslaught of cravings if not managed well, especially if there is no plan in place to support the cessation process. 

How does nicotine play a role in smoking addiction?

When you smoke, nicotine releases from the cigarette and enters your bloodstream via your lungs. It travels up into your brain where it activates your nicotinic receptors. These receptors then trigger the release of dopamine (the reward/ relaxation chemical). The feeling that you experience when dopamine is released into your body, however, doesn’t last very long. What this means, in terms of smoking, is that when you stop, your nicotine levels reduce and the craving to experience that feeling from the release of  dopamine is enhanced.

Understanding the habitual side of smoking

Over time, your brain is exposed to a multitude of subtle cues. Each of these cues acts as a driver towards the behaviour of smoking. Some common triggers include a morning coffee, heading off to bed, stress, boredom, nicotine withdrawal and seeing somebody else smoke.  

Remember, you have the ability to make slight adjustments to your environment to support your goal of stopping to smoke. 

Five tips to successfully manage cravings when you stop smoking 

  • Commit to the ‘not a puff’ rule 

When setting a ‘stop smoking’ goal, aim to pick a date and say, “I’m not having a single puff of a cigarette from this point, onwards”. Research suggests that between 75% and 95% of quitters who have a single cigarette, resume regular smoking. When we stop smoking, the nicotinic receptors go to sleep. Unfortunately, they can easily be woken back up by smoking again and if this happens, the withdrawal symptoms then return. 

  •  Identify your triggers 

Write down your main trigger points of when you would typically have a cigarette throughout the day. Assess for any high-risk situations such as alcohol and smoking. From there, establish a plan to support yourself so that you do not succumb to those triggers. Also, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help changing thinking patterns. Once you have changed the way you feel about smoking, a change in your behaviour should follow too.

  •  Learn helpful and healthy ways to manage stress 

If you ask a smoker why they smoke, a typical response is, “it helps me to relax when I’m feeling stressed”. For this reason, many smokers haven’t found other more helpful and healthy ways to manage their stress. Think about what else helps you to switch off and relax. It could be reading a book, speaking to a friend, practising some mindfulness, going for a walk or another physical activity that can help you coping with cravings. 

  •  Attend a free ‘stop smoking’ service 

There are many free, local ‘stop smoking’ services available. These can provide you with dual level support, including a smoking cessation coach and a ‘stop smoking’ treatment. Visit https://www.nhs.uk/smokefree/help-and-advice/local-support-services-helplines to find one in your area. Remember, you don’t get any gold medals by making the process of cessation more difficult for yourself – get help! 

  •  Use ‘stop smoking’ aids to help you quit for good. 

Using a ‘stop smoking’ aid, such as Nicotine Replacement Therapy, a nicotine gum, a nicotine patch, or an e-cigarette, can double your chances of successfully stopping. Nicotine is the safest part of a cigarette, albeit the most addictive. The supportive aids that are available deliver nicotine in a less harmful way, so the nicotine cravings aren’t as bad when trying to stop. Find out more here:  Stop smoking treatments – NHS

The journey to kick the habit may not always be easy but it is a worthwhile journey. When you get there – and you can get there, you will get the chance to experience all of health benefits that a smoke free life can bring, short term and long term. 

The benefits

In just 7 days without smoking you will start seeing the changes in your body.

It only takes 20 minutes for your heart rate and blood pressure to start returning to a normal range.

After 8 hours the harmful carbon monoxide level in your blood will have halved, and so your levels of nicotine. It is normal to start experiencing nicotine cravings and irritability.

After 2 days, your lungs will be clearing out mucus (a small cough is a common symptoms) and your senses of taste and smell will improve.

After 3 days, breathing might feel easier because your bronchial tubes will start to relax. Also your energy will be increasing.

In 2 to 12 weeks, blood circulation to your heart, lungs and muscles will improve. Within 3 to 9 months of quitting, you can expect substantial improvements in lung function.

Within a few years of quitting, your risk of developing heart disease or having an heart attack will be much lower than if you had continued to smoke.

After 10 years, your risk of death from lung cancer will have halved compared with a smoker’s.

So why not give it a try now?

Read more: Creating Behaviour Change