When you quit smoking, the first thing you may notice is a craving. Your immediate thought will be “I need a cigarette!” because that is what you have always thought whenever you get ‘that feeling’. As a matter of fact, longtime smokers transfer just about ANY feeling or sensation to “I need a cigarette!” Doing so probably leads to more relapses and failed quit attempts than just about any other factors combined. So what is really going on here?
In the very beginning, cravings are a valid physical response brought on by quit related withdrawal symptoms. Remember, it is not just nicotine but 4000+ chemicals, smoke, tar and gasses leaving your system – a system used to inhaling all of the above every hour on the hour for years on end! Stress, irritability, craving, agitation and anxiety are weapons used by the addictive brain to convince you to re-dose via another cigarette. Physically, your body really does think it ‘needs’ a cigarette! Nicotine clears your system in just 72 hours. That is why your physical cravings are often stronger on days 4, 5 and 6 of your quit than they were at the beginning. It is the absence of nicotine & other smoking related chemicals in your system that signal withdrawal. Your system is not used to this sensation at all. Let these cravings pass by you, as they are temporary!
Once your body adapts, the withdrawal related aspect of cravings is no longer a factor. So why is that craving, ‘that feeling’ still there? Why do you still think to “I need a cigarette!” when you know your body does NOT need a cigarette anymore? Because this is the craving that does not pass; it is a void that must be filled.
Your mind still tells you that you ‘need a cigarette’ because it has become your lifelong habit to smoke in response to every emotion or sensation! You could be stressed. You could miss the ritual of lighting up and smoking. You could really need comfort, something to look forward to, something to occupy your time or some social interaction. The secret is to find the real want/need behind each sensation or emotion and ‘feed the crave’ with what you really need in that moment. That is how you fill the void, and that is how you become a nonsmoker vs ‘not smoking’. Your body let go of smoking, now it is time for YOU to let go of smoking! You’ve ignored what you really feel/need for so long, ‘the sensation behind the crave may be hard to identify at first. That’s ok – it’s perfectly normal! The next time you have a craving, stop and ask yourself “What am I feeling? What do I need to feel better? Would a long walk, new hobby, hot bath or good book help right now? How about talking to a friend or your kids or spouse?
Work hard to meet your needs successfully as a nonsmoker. Once your emotional needs are met, those old thoughts of 'I need a cigarette' will fade away. You will not feel stressed, crave, or seek a quick fix. You'll be happier, healthier and able to keep your wonderful quit going strong. That is how cravings pass and being a nonsmoker becomes a comfortable, permanent lifestyle change!
Vikki Q CTTS-M
Master Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist