What You Need to Know About Quitting Smoking (2024)

Quitting smoking, albeit challenging, is one of the most impactful health choices you can make. The physical and mental benefits are numerous. Stopping tobacco helps prevent cardiac and respiratory diseases, lowers cancer risk, and boosts your overall health. Studies show links between smoking and anxiety and depression. When you stop smoking, your body starts to recover, and the health benefits are immediate.

But what makes quitting challenging is the addiction to nicotine in tobacco products. Withdrawal from this substance can cause cravings, irritability, anger, sadness, increased hunger, and insomnia. If you’re thinking about quitting or have a quit plan, knowing what to expect is helpful.

This article details the stages of quitting, coping strategies, and the resources available to help you stop.

What You Need to Know About Quitting Smoking (1)

What Happens After You Quit Smoking? A Timeline

After you quit, your body begins to repair itself almost immediately, though recovery takes years. You will likely contend with withdrawal symptoms as nicotine clears out from your bloodstream and beyond. While individual experiences vary depending on how much and how long you have been smoking, here’s a timeline of what you can expect after smoking cessation.

When You Quit Smoking
1.Your heart rate returns to normal.Within hours
2.Nicotine leaves your bloodstream.The next day
3.Your risk for heart attack declines.The next day
4.Carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal.72 hours
5.Your lung function improves.Weeks to months
6.You cough less.Weeks to months
7.Shortness of breath improves.Weeks to months
8.Your risk of coronary heart disease decreases.1–2 years
9.Your risk of certain cancers decreases.5–15 years
10.Your lungs fully recover.20 years

Hours Later

You won’t wait long to experience the physical health benefits of quitting tobacco. Within 20 minutes, your heart rate returns to normal.

As your nicotine levels drop, you’ll also start to feel cravings for cigarettes or nicotine within a couple of hours of stopping.

The Next Day

Within 12 to 24 hours after quitting, your bloodstream becomes nicotine-free, and the risk of heart attack begins to decline. You may feel irritable, restless, hopeless, or sad, and you may also have food cravings.

72 Hours

Within a couple of days, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal. Withdrawal symptoms continue and may become more severe; they tend to peak in intensity within the first three days.

You may feel irritated, agitated, angry, depressed, sad, or have trouble sleeping. Some people may also notice an increased appetite.

Two Weeks to 12 Months

Two weeks to three months after you stop smoking, you will notice improvements in lung function. The cilia—hairlike structures in the lungs damaged by smoke—start to recover after one month and throughout the first year. As your lungs heal, you’ll begin to cough less and have less shortness of breath.

For most people, cravings and other withdrawal symptoms are most severe during the first week after quitting, and they can last for a month or more.

One to Two Years

As you enter the second year after quitting, your risk of coronary heart disease drops to half that of people who smoke. This significantly reduces the chance of heart attack.

Five to 15 Years

Five to 10 years after stopping, your risk of mouth, throat, or voice box (diaphragm) cancer is half that of those who smoke or use tobacco. Your chance of having a stroke also starts to decline.

Maintaining tobacco cessation for 10 years lowers your risk of dying from lung cancer by half. In addition, smoking cessation reduces your chances of developing certain cancers, including those of the cervix, larynx (part of the throat), kidney, and pancreas. Fifteen years after stopping, your risk of coronary heart disease matches that of someone who has never smoked.

20 Years

After 20 years of not smoking, your risk of cancer in the mouth, nose, pancreas, and larynx becomes nearly the same as in someone who doesn’t smoke. By this point, your lungs have functionally recovered from the damage.

What Happens If You Replace Smoking With Vaping?

Vaping nicotine—inhaling a heated, liquid form of the drug—has exploded in popularity over the last two decades. Evidence suggests smoking is more harmful to your lungs, though vaping can lead to inflammation or lung damage. It’s still very addictive. More research is needed about the long-term effects of vaping. The evidence to support vaping as a smoking cessation tool is controversial.

Lung Detox: How to Cleanse Your Lungs

Coping Through Triggers

The physical and psychological symptoms of quitting smoking make it a challenging feat. If you’ve quit before, you know that certain drinks, foods, situations, and emotions can give you a sudden urge to smoke, even if it’s been months or years. These triggers vary from person to person but typically fall into three categories, as follows:

  • Social triggers: These are triggers associated with social events, such as being around people who smoke at a party or on a work break.
  • Emotional triggers: Emotional states, such as anxiety, stress, boredom, and sadness, can also trigger a craving. Some people who smoke light up to cope with these emotions. This urge may persist after you’ve quit.
  • Pattern triggers: This refers to regular situations or events that you mentally link to smoking, such as the cigarette you might have had with coffee, after a meal, or when driving.

Avoid, Change, Escape

Remember the acronym “ACE” to manage triggers, meaning:

  • Avoid people, places, and events that you know will trigger a craving.
  • Change triggering situations. This is easier said than done, but even minor changes can decrease your desire to smoke or distract you from the craving.
  • Escape from tempting situations. Have a plan to excuse yourself from places or conversations that tempt you to smoke.

If you feel a craving and can’t do any of the above, you may wish to consider nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). It can provide you with a small amount of nicotine to help reduce cravings in the short term. NRT is available in various forms, including:

  • Patch
  • Lozenges
  • Gum

Additional strategies for coping with cravings include:

  • Chew on a toothpick, cinnamon stick, or sugarless gum as a smoking substitute.
  • Try a healthy snack, such as carrots or celery sticks.
  • Take a deep breath, inhaling and exhaling slowly.
  • Try meditation or other relaxation techniques.
  • Remind yourself that the craving will pass within five to 10 minutes.
  • Stay focused on your goals; remind yourself that not smoking is good for you and your family.
  • Take a walk or take part in light physical activity.

Emotional Support When You Feel Bad

While quitting smoking is good for your physical and mental health, you may experience irritability, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness.

To cope when you’re feeling bad, seek out emotional support. Here’s what you can do:

  • Talk to family and friends: Be open and communicative with your family and friends about what you’re going through. They can be an excellent source of support.
  • Seek support from a quitline: Quitlines like 1-800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) are free; you can speak with trained counselors who can offer resources and quitting tips.
  • Try a tobacco cessation program: Tobacco cessation programs involve taking classes and doing individual or group work with trained counselors; they may help provide tips for dealing with the emotional impact of quitting.
  • Consider therapy: Some may benefit from working with a psychiatrist or mental health counselor trained in addiction; in individual or group settings, this work focuses on identifying addictive patterns and coping with the emotional impact.
  • Seek out support groups: Meeting in person or online with others going through smoking cessation can provide you with a bedrock of encouragement and support; consider support groups like Nicotine Anonymous.

How Long Does It Take to Quit Smoking?

It takes time for your body and mind to adjust to life without tobacco. Depending on the case, it takes about one to three months for the cravings and other symptoms of withdrawal to resolve. The timing can vary depending on how much and how long you smoked.

Since there’s a psychological component to addiction, you may still have occasional urges to smoke after the physical symptoms have subsided. This can be an added challenge, so coping with your triggers and doing what you can to stay on course is essential.

Don’t Lose Heart

Remember that it’s perfectly normal to relapse once you quit. Medical literature reveals that it takes, on average, eight to 30 attempts for someone to stop successfully. You shouldn’t feel bad or give up if you slip. Though quitting is difficult, there are many resources available to help.

Resources: Apps, Numbers, and More

As you undergo your quitting journey, know that you aren’t alone. There are many easily accessible resources and organizations that can help. You can get help from:

Summary

Quitting smoking boosts your health almost immediately, improving your heart and lung function and preventing cancer, respiratory diseases, cardiac conditions, and more. It takes one to three months for nicotine withdrawal symptoms to stop, and total physical recovery from smoking damage takes up to 20 years. Avoiding triggers and making lifestyle changes can help, with smoking cessation programs, therapy, and support groups among ways to find social support.

9 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Taylor GM, Lindson N, Farley A, et al. Smoking cessation for improving mental health. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2021;3(3):CD013522. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD013522.pub2

  2. National Cancer Institute. Handling nicotine withdrawal and triggers when you decide to quit tobacco.

  3. American Lung Association. Benefits of quitting.

  4. Al-Hamdani M, Manly E. Smoking cessation or initiation: the paradox of vaping. Prev Med Rep. 2021;22:101363. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2021.101363

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking and tobacco use: Benefits of quitting.

  6. UpToDate. ACE: Avoid, change, escape. Strategies for coping with smoking triggers.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How quit smoking medicines work.

  8. SmokeFree.gov. How to manage cravings.

  9. Chaiton M, Diemert L, Cohen JE, et al. Estimating the number of quit attempts it takes to quit smoking successfully in a longitudinal cohort of smokers. BMJ Open. 2016;6(6):e011045. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-011045

What You Need to Know About Quitting Smoking (2)

By Mark Gurarie
Gurarie is a freelance writer and editor. He is a writing composition adjunct lecturer at George Washington University.

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What You Need to Know About Quitting Smoking (2024)

FAQs

What you need to know about quitting smoking? ›

Symptoms when you quit smoking
  1. cravings – these may be strong at first, but they usually only last a few minutes. ...
  2. restlessness and trouble concentrating or sleeping – these will pass as your body gets used to not smoking. ...
  3. irritability, anger, anxiety, depressed mood – this is all normal: don't panic.

What are some good facts about quitting smoking? ›

Within 2–12 weeks, your circulation improves and lung function increases. Within 1–9 months, coughing and shortness of breath decrease. Within 5–15 years, your stroke risk is reduced to that of a non-smoker. Within 10 years, your lung cancer death rate is about half that of a smoker.

What questions are asked about quitting smoking? ›

What do you think it would be like to stop smoking? What do you imagine it would be like if you weren't a smoker anymore? What have been your past experiences with quitting smoking? What do you think you would need to successfully stop smoking?

What you'll notice after quitting smoking? ›

See other ways to manage withdrawal.
  • Feeling irritated, grouchy, or upset. It is very common to feel irritated or grouchy when you quit. ...
  • Feeling jumpy and restless. Feeling jumpy or restless during the first days or weeks after quitting is normal. ...
  • Having a hard time concentrating. ...
  • Feeling hungrier or gaining weight.

What happens right after you quit smoking? ›

The positive health effects of quitting smoking begin 20 minutes after your last cigarette. Your blood pressure and pulse will start to return to more normal levels. In addition, fibers in the bronchial tubes that previously didn't move well due to constant exposure to smoke will start to move again.

How long will I feel sick after quitting smoking? ›

Most relapses happen within the first two weeks of quitting. If you can get over that hump, the physical symptoms will start to go away -- but you'll still be dealing with mental and emotional challenges such as anxiety, depression, and irritability. Those will also taper off after a few weeks.

What's the hardest part of quitting smoking? ›

You might have a hard time concentrating or sleeping, have strong urges to smoke, or just feel generally uncomfortable. These feelings are called withdrawal. This gets better a few weeks after quitting as your brain gets used to not having nicotine around.

What are 3 reasons why quitting smoking is so difficult? ›

Why Is Quitting Smoking So Difficult? The Science Behind Addiction
  • Physical: Cigarettes contain an addictive chemical called nicotine, that when inhaled causes the release of another chemical called dopamine in the brain that makes you feel good. ...
  • Mental: The act of smoking is often part of a daily routine.
Jan 2, 2016

What to expect when you give up smoking? ›

After one month, your complexion may improve and any wrinkles might be reduced. You might notice you cough less and that your breathing improves. Between three and nine months after quitting, your lung function can increase by up to 10%. By the end of the first year, your risk of a heart attack will drop by half.

How long after quitting smoking will I cough up tar? ›

Once you give up, your lungs start to fight back by coughing up tar. A mug full of tar builds up in the lungs of a 20 a day smoker over the period of a year. It is the toxic chemicals in tar that cause cancer. “Within 2 or 3 months your lung capacity can increase by up to 30%.

Can a smoker's lungs go back to normal? ›

What Happens To the Lungs When You Quit Smoking? Your lungs start healing right away when you quit smoking. If you are a smoker, please understand that you can potentially reverse years of damage caused by smoking if you stop today.

How long after quitting smoking will my blood pressure go down? ›

By the end of their first day without cigarettes, a person's body will eliminate excess carbon monoxide, and blood pressure will lower to a regular level. In as little as 1 month , coughing and shortness of breath decrease, and within 9 months, a person's lung function increases by 10%.

What are the 4 stages to quit smoking? ›

There are usually four stages smokers go through in the process of quitting, which include:
  • Contemplation (thinking about quitting but not ready to quit) ...
  • Preparation (getting ready to quit) ...
  • Action (quitting) ...
  • Maintenance (remaining a non-smoker)

What is the most successful method of quitting smoking? ›

"The best way to quit smoking is with a combination of medication and counseling," says Maher Karam-Hage, M.D., medical director of the Tobacco Treatment Program at MD Anderson. "They both help. But you double your chances by using both compared with one of them."

What not to do when quitting smoking? ›

You might be tempted to smoke in social situations. During the first few weeks of quitting, try to avoid situations where you will be tempted to smoke and where cigarettes are available. Tell the people you spend time with who smoke that you are quitting smoking.

Can lungs heal after 40 years of smoking? ›

Long-time smokers will take longer for their lungs to improve. Some damage from smoking is permanent. Unfortunately, your alveoli cannot restore themselves, but stopping smoking will halt the progression of COPD and improve your ability to breathe.

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