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7 Coping Skills to Help You Manage Nicotine Withdrawal

How to Manage the Urge to Smoke


Updated March 05, 2005

Nicotine Withdrawal is a short phase overall, but it can be very intense, especially if you’re not prepared for what you’ll possibly experience. Empower yourself with knowledge about what to expect as you go through nicotine withdrawal. The following tips will help you manage the urge to smoke more easily.

Coping Skills for Nicotine Withdrawal

1. Review Your Reasons to Quit Smoking.
We all have them. Many of my reasons for wanting to quit smoking are probably the same as yours. Some of them will be different and unique to our own situations. Commit your reasons to paper and have that list handy when the urge to smoke comes along. Carry it with you. Add to it as more reasons pop into your mind. Your list is a valuable tool to help you overcome the urge to smoke. Read Zoe’s List of Pros and Cons to see a very in-depth list of reasons put together by a successful long-term quitter.

2. Know When You're Rationalizing.
Thoughts of smoking ”just one” cigarette are going to happen as you make your way through the early days of nicotine withdrawal. In fact, during the first week or two of smoking cessation, you may feel as though you’re thinking of nothing BUT smoking. Addiction has an even stronger hold on us mentally than it does physically. Once you quit smoking, you can bet your mind will turn itself inside out trying to convince you that you MUST smoke again. Be prepared for the mental chatter. Every person who quits smoking goes through some of it. Understand that it’s a part of the process of recovery from this addiction and don’t let it throw you. Usually by the end of the first smoke free month, the worst of it is over for most people. Read Rationalizations for Smoking and Nicotine Withdrawal and Junkie Thinking for ideas about how to redirect your thoughts and get you out of the junkie thinking danger zone.

3. Triggers to Smoke – Be Prepared to Defeat Them.
Physical withdrawal from nicotine triggers the urge to smoke for all of us. Once the nicotine is gone from the bloodstream however, triggers shift over to the mental associations we’ve built up over the years. They're intricately woven into the very fabric of our lives. From the first cup of coffee in the morning to the last thing you do before bed, smoking has become a part of who you are. And be aware...triggers will often appear seemingly out of the blue and create powerful urges to smoke that can make you feel like you're right back in the midst of physical withdrawal, even though there is no longer any nicotine present. With practice, you can break down old habits and create new ones that are much healthier. Try some of the following ideas to help you overcome triggers to smoke when they occur:
  • Distract! Keep your hands busy with a hobby. Take a look at this list of 101 Things to Do Instead of Smoking, compiled by About.com Smoking Cessation Forum members.
  • Have healthy snacks on hand to help you with the hand-to-mouth association of smoking. Celery and carrot sticks are good, or for something sweet, try frozen grapes. Chewing sugarless gum or chewing on a straw can be helpful too.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and/or putting yourself in an environment too soon where there are smokers. The time will come when drinking or being around smokers won’t bother you, but don’t expect it within the first several weeks or even months. Take the time you need to heal and don’t push yourself into situations that may be more than you can manage smoke free.
  • Read 4 Steps to Defeat the Urge to Smoke. This article will help you begin to understand what your body is signaling when you experience an urge to smoke and gives you tools to make the permanent changes that will bring you freedom from addiction.
4. Support, Support, Support!
Your commitment to quit smoking permanently will be much easier to sustain if you have strong, positive support around you. Friends and family can be helpful, but they may not understand the depth of what quitting smoking means to you, especially if they’ve never smoked. You may be left feeling as though you're not getting the acknowledgment you'd like. And watch out for the smokers in your life! Your quit can be threatening to them, because we all know that most smokers wish they could quit, even if they don’t say it. If you have people in your life who are giving you negative messages about your quit, understand that this may be coming from their own feelings of jealousy and guilt.

Use the support offered at our Smoking Cessation Forum here at About.com. You can visit as a guest and read posts, or you can register(free) and post messages of your own. You’ll meet people who are going through just what you are, or have been there and can offer constructive advice. Your resolve will be bolstered more than you can imagine just by being around others who have the same goals as you do.

More Coping Skills for Nicotine Withdrawal

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