What’s the right way to quit smoking?

The right way to quit smoking: abruptly or gradually

Smokers know: because of addiction, it is difficult to give up cigarettes. Some decide to quit immediately, others – reduce the “dose”. What are the dangers and benefits of each way?

After realizing the harm to health – their own and those around them, fans of cigarettes are thinking about quitting smoking altogether. Both abrupt and gradual quitting can be effective. The main thing is to consider your individual characteristics, writes healthgrades.com.

“The Slow Way.”

This means smoking fewer and fewer cigarettes each day until the number reaches zero. This method reduces the likelihood of developing withdrawal – “withdrawal syndrome” which can have dangerous symptoms.

If a person smoked a lot and quit abruptly, they may experience sweating, chills, stomach upset, vomiting, headaches, and muscle pain. In some cases, withdrawal leads to a coma, and this is already life-threatening.

However, gradual reduction will not one hundred percent insure against withdrawal syndrome, either. “Withdrawal symptoms” can stretch for a longer time, although they will be less pronounced.

Therefore, before quitting smoking “slowly,” you need to make a plan. Preferably together with a doctor. It prescribes exactly how the number of cigarettes will be reduced, on what day will come the complete refusal. It is necessary to include in the schedule auxiliary methods: special nicotine patches, gum – who likes what better.

It is necessary to think in advance about the food regime: what to do with the growing appetite. There should be a plan in case you really want to smoke, or friends will offer you a cigarette. What if a stressful situation arises? How to keep away from cigarettes is an important part of the strategy.

Experts give a few more tips for those who are quitting gradually:

  • Instead of starting the day with a smoke, wait until the first smoke break at work – and start counting down;
  • if you smoke in the car, have only one cigarette handy;
  • When day X comes – spend it without cigarettes, do not put it off until “tomorrow,” otherwise the whole plan will go to waste;
  • If you still stumble and smoke more – do not despair, continue to stick to the plan and get back on the right track.

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“Fast track.”

It means stopping smoking immediately and not reaching for “one more last” cigarette. The advantage of the method is that the time is shortened and the withdrawal symptoms are not prolonged.

But there is also a huge disadvantage: the “withdrawal syndrome” can be so strong that the person will experience tremendous physical suffering. As mentioned above, all the way up to a coma. And they can last from several days to several weeks.

However, those who have decided to quit abruptly “save” themselves from withdrawal with nicotine patches and prescription drugs . That is, it’s better not to make such decisions without a specialist.

But if all goes well, it is unlikely to want to go back to smoking and again painfully refuse it.

Tips for lovers of “shortcuts”:

  • The day before the complete abrupt refusal of cigarettes to throw out of the house everything that reminds of nicotine addiction, up to beautiful ashtrays and collectible lighters;
  • do not hide a pack in the closet “just in case”;
  • wash clothes, curtains, clean furniture, take your car to dry-cleaning – so that there is not even a smell of cigarettes left.
  • If you take special medications as recommended by your doctor, get them in advance so that you don’t have to look for them urgently when you have cravings.

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So which method is better?

A 2017 study found: smokers who chose to quit abruptly were more successful in their efforts. Their rate was 22%. Those who smoked fewer and fewer cigarettes each day showed only 15.5% success. Both groups used nicotine patches and were monitored by doctors.

Researchers emphasize: it is not so important what method a person chooses, the main thing – his desire, determination and willingness to give up smoking forever.

Previously Yellmed told what you need to know before you start taking blood thinners.

How to quit smoking? 5 ways and a step-by-step action plan

It is commonly believed that smoking is just a bad habit, but in fact, addiction to tobacco is a disease that even has a designation: F17. Every fifth person in the world is a smoker. In Russia this figure is even higher: every third smoker here

Addiction means not only constant nicotine replenishment, but also the rituals: to go out for a smoke break, take a cigarette with a glass of wine, pat yourself on the pants in search of a lighter. All of these are habitual neural pathways that the body does not easily interrupt when a person quits smoking. That’s why it’s important to get rid of both the physical and psychological addiction.

The material was checked by an evidence-based addiction therapist, psychotherapist, cognitive-behavioral therapist Ilya Kisler

Why you need to quit smoking immediately

According to statistics, in 2017, more than 8 million people around the world died from tobacco smoke-related illnesses, of which 1.2 million died from passive tobacco use [1].

By comparison, during the COVID-19 epidemic, 2.1 million people died due to the disease [2]. At the same time for each death from tobacco smoking there are in the neighborhood of 30 patients who suffer from diseases related to this habit. Harmful substances provoke the development of more than 15 types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [3].

Tobacco smoke, which consists of 4000 chemical compounds, weakens the immune system and thus negatively affects all organs of the body. It can provoke infertility and impotence, as well as negatively affecting sperm quality, which can later lead to congenital defects in the embryo. Also smoking weakens bones and teeth, making them more fragile, provokes the development of rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, including ulcers [4].

As soon as a person quits smoking, the body begins to recover instantly. Already after one day the blood pressure is normalized and blood circulation improves, after two days the person better distinguishes tastes and smells, and after a month the walls of the lungs are regenerated.

Modern Ways to Quit Smoking

There are several techniques for quitting smoking that help you get through the most difficult first days. They will only be effective if the person has the motivation to cope with the addiction.

Nicotine replacement therapy

Patches, inhalers, and gum that contain nicotine deliver it to your body in a much gentler way than cigarettes.

Pros: They help you get rid of your addiction smoothly by gradually reducing the dose and not putting your body into shock.

Cons: Do not make up for the “smoker’s ritual,” when a person is used to picking up a cigarette after coffee or during a break at work.

Allen Carr Books

The method is not to forbid certain actions, but to develop motivation. Allen Carr, who once smoked several packs a day and then became one of the leading British and world experts in quitting smoking and other addictions, consistently explains not only those disadvantages that relate to health, but also others – which are related to psychology. In particular, he points out the “I love smoking / I’m addicted to smoking” substitution, drawing the reader’s attention to the fact that addiction is a weakness.

Pros: Allen Carr gradually prepares the reader for the change. For example, he says that one can smoke while reading his book, but that one must stop as soon as the last page is turned.

Cons: A person can stretch out reading for a long time, quit the book at some point, or simply not follow the author’s instructions.


Can be a supportive practice in the stress of quitting smoking. It has been proven that after a few hours of practice, people are calmer, have more self-control, and their moods are higher.

Pros: Helps not to think about tobacco. Reduces the desire to smoke a cigarette.

Cons: Requires regularity [5].


The most important thing in preparation is desire. People who bring their loved ones for coding usually get the opposite effect. The person does not succumb to the doctor’s instructions, and, on the contrary, after the procedure, brags that nothing takes him or her.

Pros: If hypnosis goes well, you can get rid of the habit very quickly.

Cons: There is no scientific evidence yet that hypnotherapy is the best and 100% effective way to quit smoking [6].

Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is built on working with the patient’s dysfunctional thoughts and irrational beliefs. For example, such as: “I have to smoke to relieve stress”, “It is practically impossible to talk in a smoking group and not smoke at the same time”, “It is very difficult to give up smoking, and I will not be able to do this”.

The method gives excellent results in combination with nicotine replacement therapy; some specialists also use hypnosis.

Pros: The person has support and a “guide” to get them out of withdrawal states.

Cons: Cost. However, it will pay off by saving money on cigarettes.

E-cigarettes won’t help.

Often in an attempt to reduce nicotine addiction, people switch to electronic cigarettes. Alas, as recent research shows, it is far from a harmless device. Such devices support ritualistic behavior and contain nicotine [7].

The WHO does not recognize e-cigarettes as nicotine replacement therapy [8].

Evidence-based medicine also questions acupuncture. This method involves inserting needles under the skin to alleviate the symptoms caused by withdrawal. For those who may find this process uncomfortable, there are simulated needles that do not go inside the tissue. According to clinical studies, such therapy does not provide the proper result [9].

What else won’t help you quit smoking

Smoking mixtures often contain tobacco and other harmful substances. Homeopathic help also still raises questions. So far, there are no reliable studies on whether naturopathy helps.

What you need to know before you quit smoking on your own

According to the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes from 18 to 254 days to form new habits. It all depends on age and the ability of neurons to create new pathways. Actually, they like to run along already treaded paths, which is the reason why it is so difficult for us to say goodbye to our usual behavior [10].

However, tricking your brain with nicotine addiction is possible.

How to quit smoking on your own

  • Designate yourself a date when you say goodbye to tobacco. Two weeks before the hour X, you can start preparing. For example, to give up ritual cigarettes in the morning and for coffee. It makes sense to follow what moments you smoke because you really want to, and when it is just a habit – on a walk, while driving, to your favorite song, after a meal. All of these patterns need to be broken one by one.
  • Tell everyone. With a firm decision, it is advisable to notify all your friends and acquaintances. You can do it through social media. If a lot of people will know that you quit, it will be harder for you to admit to them that you failed.
  • Set a goal. You can start by telling yourself that you won’t smoke for a week. The hardest part will be the third day without nicotine, when the amount of nicotine in the blood comes to a minimum. It is during this period that a person begins to experience withdrawal syndrome, which is accompanied by irritability, headache and increased appetite. You can prepare for this day in advance and think of something to distract yourself with. Relaxation practices can help. We wrote about the ways in which you can relieve stress here. After the first “withdrawal”, it is necessary to set yourself a second goal. For example, to last ten days. And so gradually move towards the goal.
  • Occupy your hands. This will help to break the ritual of the habit. It is desirable to have some object with you, for example, a spinner or a pencil. A 1000-piece puzzle or jigsaw puzzle is ideal.
  • Be prepared for addictive substitution. The easiest option is to eat more. This is why, after giving up cigarettes, some people gain weight. Over time, the eating process will normalize and the extra pounds will go away. During this period, it is best to have on hand a bottle of water or low-calorie snacks, such as chopped fruits and vegetables. As a substitute for the habit, you should be more active in your body, such as practicing yoga or running.
  • Don’t berate yourself when you have a breakdown. You’re not just fighting a habit, you’re fighting an addiction. This is a disease that is not so easy to beat on your own. So if you have smoked a cigarette, it’s important to commend yourself for making it last that long and set yourself the next goal.

Apps to quit smoking

For those who find it difficult to cope on their own, there are apps that help you get through this period. Many of them are built on motivation. You need to specify how many cigarettes disappear from your pack per day, the date when you are going to quit, and then – look at the app every time you want to inhale. It will display the amount of time and money you haven’t spent. For example, if you smoke a pack a day and it costs around 100 rubles, then the annual savings will be about 40 thousand rubles.

But most importantly, the app will tell you what is happening to your body. So, after six hours the process of purification of the lungs will start, and after ten hours the body will get rid of half the nicotine and carbon monoxide in the blood. The app “Don’t smoke!” is based on this principle (download from Apple Store, Google Play)

Quit Genious will help those who want to give up cigarettes gradually. This program is based on the methods of cognitive behavioral therapy. Its main goal is to help you gain control over your actions. Instead of forcing you to quit smoking right away, the app suggests setting goals, such as smoking three cigarettes a day. By completing the task, you’ll find out how much money you saved, how many months of your life back (download from Apple Store, Google Play)

Smokkiten is a 222-day program. In the game, which was developed together with the cancer prevention center, a person unlocks new levels every day, receiving motivational messages (download in Apple Store, Google Play).

Comments from the experts

Ilya Kisler, evidence-based addiction therapist, psychotherapist, cognitive behavioral therapist

Regarding nicotine addiction it is safe to say that it is often possible to quit smoking on your own. In my practice, there have been cases where a patient has had just one session of cognitive behavioral therapy in which the patient’s idea of “I can’t quit smoking alone” is challenged. This is an irrational belief that can be refuted with facts and stories. Motivational counseling [11], during which the therapist points out to the patient the discrepancy between his behavior and the goal he sets for himself, also helps well. The method is aimed at increasing self-efficacy.

If the anxiety component in the withdrawal syndrome joins, medication (nicotine replacement therapy, anxiolytics) and normal duration cognitive behavioral therapy protocols or motivational counseling are also necessary.

A good aid here will also be dialectical-behavioral therapy, which has in its arsenal of many self-help skills for both anxiety and mood swings.

If therapy is conducted competently, the risk of “spillover” of one addiction into another is minimal. To the increased appetite in the first moments after quitting tobacco should be taken calmly, it is a normal reaction of the body.

Irina Mulkijan, practicing psychologist

In our culture smoking is often treated as a habit with a bad reputation. People who cannot give up smoking are considered weak-willed, unable to force themselves to change even under threat of harm to their health.

From a psychologist’s point of view, everything is more complicated. Often the process of smoking is only the visible tip of the iceberg, in the underwater part of which the mechanism of addiction itself is concentrated – both psychological and chemical. And those who have decided to quit are likely to have to deal with both components: they are interrelated.

The deepest roots of the habit – to take a cigarette during stress – can be formed before the age of 1.5 years. During this period, an infant begins sucking on a pacifier or finger to reduce anxiety and relax, such as in the absence of the mother.

Smoking can serve a variety of needs. And it is far from always possible for a person to recognize them, since they have not simply been frustrated, but also displaced into the unconscious.

In the case when a person decides voluntarily to quit smoking, the symptom may shift to a place where it is possible to relieve vague, unconscious tension in another way and to find a symbolic support. Often this support becomes food, the most accessible and individually appropriate form of substituting one addiction for another. People subconsciously perceive it as a symbol of belonging and love. Often, instead of emotional closeness, those around them offer food as the only form of caring available to them. Having adopted the behavior from their elders, already grown children remain loyal to such self-support. However, in this way, the person again finds himself or herself on the tip of the iceberg of his or her needs.

Awareness-raising practices that focus on understanding and feeling for oneself, one’s needs and motives, and one’s body can help. For example, psychotherapy, yoga, meditation. By satisfying their true needs, a person is quite capable of forgetting the last time they held a cigarette in their mouth.

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