What's the hardest part of quitting smoking?

Samantha Reid
Health Education
The quitting process is a difficult one and you may find that what is hard for you may not be a problem for someone else. It is important that you be patient. You should be aware that relapses can happen and that you may need to try different methods of quitting before you find the one that works for you. There are resources that can help you through this.

Chemical addiction has two components, physical dependence and psychological dependence. After someone has developed a chemical dependency on nicotine, withdrawal will begin within 2-3 hours of a person's last cigarette and typically peaks within 2-3 days. Physical withdrawal likely resolves within 5 to 7 days).

What makes that time between the last cigarette and freedom the most difficult are the psychological factors involved in smoking.

  • Smoking is a habit - like any habit you are trying to break, you will find it hardest to just not do it. The most effective route is to put another, healthier activity in its place to become a new habit. Consider breathing exercises for relaxation. Smokers usually alter their breathing pattern when they smoke taking a deep drag in, holding their breath and slowly letting it go. This pattern is not unlike relaxation breathing techniques taught in meditation and yoga. Try controlled breathing exercises as a substitute.
  • Smoking is a social activity - smokers usually congregate with other smokers and are positively reinforced in smoking behavior by their peers. To overcome the loneliness and feeling of being an outcast, try to get another smoker to quit with you or make a conscious effort to meet new people who don't smoke or who also quit.
  • Smoking is stress management - smokers use a cigarette break to take a break from work or people. Days and activities are structured around when, where and with whom to take breaks in order to smoke. Continue to structure breaks into your day but put more healthy activities in their place.
  • Cigarettes can be an ice-breaker - strangers have a reason to talk to one another "Do you have a light?" Hone up your communication skills and challenge yourself to find new ways to reach out. Expect to feel awkward, eventually you'll get the hang of it.
  • Smoking combats boredom - the act of lighting and smoking a cigarette gives people something to do with their hands. Find something to play with unassociated with smoking if you are a "fiddler".
  • Words count - saying you have quit or that you're a non-smoker may put too much pressure on you. This doesn't leave much room for a slip. Leave self-judgment and punishment at home. Say you are quitting or cutting down. After a slip, recommit yourself to getting off of them and focus on ways you can make it longer and longer until you no longer need them.

If I can do it, so can you. Keep quitting until quitting becomes your habit.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
The hardest part of quitting smoking is probably dealing with the nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine is highly addictive -- as addictive as any narcotic drug. If you're used to inhaling a dose of nicotine every few hours, your body will let you know when it needs more. Once you stop supplying your body with nicotine, you'll go through withdrawal. The first few days are the toughest, but after a while, the cravings taper off and eventually disappear. And with the right medical, physical, and emotional support, you can get through it. Don't let the hard stuff scare you away. I promise: Dying from a painful disease is a whole lot harder than spending a few weeks craving a smoke.

Quitting smoking may cause short-term problems, especially for those who have smoked a large number of cigarettes for a long period of time:

Feeling sad or anxious: People who quit smoking are likely to feel depressed, anxious, irritable, and restless, and may have difficulty sleeping or concentrating.Gaining weight: Increased appetite is a common withdrawal symptom after quitting smoking, and studies show that people who quit smoking increase their food intake.Although most smokers gain less than 10 pounds, for some people the weight gain can be troublesome. Regular physical activity can help people maintain a healthy weight.

Depression, anxiety, restlessness, weight gain, and other problems are symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Many people find that nicotine replacement products and other medicines may relieve these problems. However, even without medication, withdrawal symptoms and other problems do subside over time. It helps to keep in mind that people who kick the smoking habit have the opportunity for a healthier future.

This answer is based on source information from the U.S National Institutes of Health.  

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
The hardest part of quitting smoking comes in the first week, three to five days after you quit. You feel cravings, you're sluggish, and you start producing a lot of gunk in the lining of your lungs in order to expel it. But all that subsides after a few weeks, if you can push through. Try an effective program to help you kick the smoking habit.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.