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Withdrawal from nicotine has 2 parts – the physical and the mental. The physical symptoms are annoying but not life-threatening. Still, if you’re not prepared for them, they can tempt you to go back to smoking. Nicotine replacement and other medicines can help reduce many of these symptoms. Most smokers find that the mental part of quitting is the bigger challenge.

If you’ve been smoking for any length of time, smoking has become linked with a lot of the things you do – waking up in the morning, eating, reading, watching TV, and drinking coffee, for example. It will take time to “un-link” smoking from these activities. This is why, even if you’re using nicotine replacement therapy, you may still have strong urges to smoke.

Rationalizations are sneaky

One way to overcome urges or cravings is to notice and identify rationalizations as they come up. A rationalization is a mistaken thought that seems to make sense at the time, but the thought isn’t based on reality. If you choose to believe in such a thought even for a short time, it can serve as a way to justify smoking. If you’ve tried to quit before, you’ll probably recognize many of these common rationalizations:

  • “I’ll just have one to get through this rough spot.”
  • “Today is not a good day. I’ll quit tomorrow.”
  • “It’s my only vice.”
  • “How bad is smoking, really? Uncle Harry smoked all his life and he lived to be over 90.”
  • “Air pollution is probably just as bad.”
  • “You’ve got to die of something.”
  • “Life is no fun without smoking.”

You probably can add more to the list. As you go through the first few days without smoking, write down any rationalizations as they come up and recognize them for what they are: messages that can trick you into going back to smoking. Look out for them, because they always show up when you’re trying to quit. After you write down the thought, let it go and move on. Be ready with a distraction, a plan of action, and other ways to re-direct your thoughts.

Use these ideas to help you stay committed to quitting

Avoid temptation. Stay away from people and places that tempt you to smoke. Later on you’ll be able to handle these with more confidence.

Change your habits. Switch to juices or water instead of alcohol or coffee. Choose foods that don’t make you want to smoke. Take a different route to work. Take a brisk walk instead of a smoke break.

    Choose other things for your mouth: Use substitutes you can put in your mouth such as sugarless gum or hard candy, raw vegetables such as carrot sticks, or sunflower seeds. Some people chew on a coffee stirrer or a straw.

    Get active with your hands: Do something to reduce your stress. Exercise or do something that keeps your hands busy, such as needlework or woodworking, which can help distract you from the urge to smoke. Take a hot bath, go for a walk, or read a book.

    Breathe deeply: When you were smoking, you breathed deeply as you inhaled the smoke. When the urge strikes now, breathe deeply and picture your lungs filling with fresh, clean air. Remind yourself of your reasons for quitting and the benefits you’ll gain as an ex-smoker.

    Delay: If you feel that you’re about to light up, hold off. Tell yourself you must wait at least 10 minutes. Often this simple trick will allow you to move beyond the strong urge to smoke.

Reward yourself. What you’re doing isn’t easy, and you deserve a reward. Put the money you would have spent on tobacco in a jar every day and then buy yourself a weekly treat. Buy a book or some new music, go out to eat, start a new hobby, or join a gym. Or save the money for a major purchase.

You can also reward yourself in ways that don’t cost money: visit a park or go to the library. Check local news listings for museums, community centers, and colleges that have free classes, exhibits, films, and other things to do.

Last Medical Review: 02/06/2014
Last Revised: 02/06/2014