Dealing with smokeless tobacco withdrawal

Withdrawal from nicotine has 2 parts:

The physical withdrawal symptoms are annoying, but not life threatening. Still, if you’re not prepared for them, they can tempt you to go back to tobacco. Nicotine replacement and other medicines can help reduce many of these symptoms. Most users find that the bigger challenge is the mental and emotional part of quitting.

If you’ve been using tobacco for any length of time, it has become linked with many of your activities – watching TV; going to sporting events; fishing, camping, or hunting; or driving your car, for example. It will take time to “un-link” tobacco use from these activities. This is one reason why, even if you are using the patch or gum, you may still have strong urges to use tobacco.

Rationalizations are sneaky

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

  • “I’ll just use it to get through this rough spot.”
  • “Today is not a good day; I’ll quit tomorrow.”
  • “It’s my only vice.”
  • “How bad is tobacco, really? Uncle Harry chewed all his life and he lived to be over 90.”
  • “You’ve got to die of something.”
  • “Life is no fun without chewing (or dipping).”

You probably can add more to the list. As you go through the first few days without tobacco, write down any rationalizations as they come up and recognize them for what they are: messages that can trick you into going back to using tobacco. Look out for them, because they always show up when you’re trying to quit. After you write down the thought, let it go from your mind. 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 use tobacco. 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. Take a different route to work. Take a brisk walk instead of a chew. Here are some more ideas:

  • Choose other things for your mouth. Use substitutes like sunflower seeds, beef jerky, sugarless gum or hard candy, or raw vegetables such as carrot sticks. Take a sip or a bite of something that makes tobacco taste bad. You might want to try mint (non-tobacco) snuff or another herbal version if you need help with cravings.
  • Get active. Exercise or do hobbies that keep you busy and require enough focus to distract you from the urge to use (such as woodworking, puzzles, and gardening).
  • Deep breathing. If you feel the urge to use tobacco, relax, breathe deeply, and fill your mouth, nose, and lungs with fresh, clean air. Remind yourself of why you are quitting and the benefits you’ll gain.
  • Delay. If you feel as if you’re on the verge of giving in, hold off. Tell yourself you must wait at least 10 minutes. Often this simple trick will get you past the strong urge to use tobacco.

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 magazine 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, 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.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: February 20, 2014 Last Revised: June 23, 2016

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