Timeline for Quitting Smoking
Quitting smoking will be one of the most challenging and rewarding things you have ever done. It is challenging because nicotine is addicting. Nicotine changes your brain chemistry and causes rewiring in nerve connections in your brain, much like other addicting drugs, such as heroin.
Your body develops a tolerance to nicotine, which causes it to need higher and higher doses to get the same effects. Many people also develop nicotine dependence. Dependence occurs because of nicotine’s addictive properties. It causes physical and psychological symptoms that make people feel like they must continue smoking.
While quitting smoking is challenging, it is also rewarding because the health benefits you gain start on the very first day.
According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 70% of adults who smoke say that they want to quit. About 55% of adults who smoke try to quit each year, and three in five people who have smoked cigarettes in their life have quit.
Most people find that they need help with smoking cessation, as fewer than one in 10 U.S. adults are able to quit smoking successfully each year. Fewer than one in three adults who smoke seek counseling or FDA-approved smoking cessation medications when trying to quit.1 Developing a plan and timeline and understanding the resources available to help with smoking cessation can help you successfully meet your goal.
What Is Involved in Quitting Smoking?
The process of quitting smoking varies by person. Some people prefer a cold turkey approach. They make a decision, set a deadline, and never look back. Others are planners. They read everything they can find about how to quit smoking, and they:
- Develop a list of alternate activities when they have a craving to smoke.
- Recognize the withdrawal symptoms and plan how they will get through them, especially in the beginning.
- Identify their triggers and plan to change their environment so they are more likely to be successful.
- Talk with their doctor or a smoking cessation specialist, whether online or in person.
- Learn about nicotine-replacement therapies and medications that help with smoking cessation.
- Join support groups and make arrangements for counseling so they know they have the support they need.
- Enlist their friends and family to help them meet their goals.
What Are Effective Strategies for Quitting?
According to CDC data, fewer than one in 10 people are able to quit smoking successfully. Nicotine withdrawal is probably the biggest challenge people trying to quit will face. Many turn to vaping or nicotine replacement therapies to help with their nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Many people think that vaping is safer than smoking, and they use it as a replacement for smoking or as a step-down with a plan to quit vaping in the future. Vaping is not as safe as it may seem. Although nicotine and other chemicals are heated and vaporized, not burned, you are still inhaling hundreds of chemicals, and the full impact of inhaling these chemicals is unknown.
Short-acting and long-acting nicotine replacement therapies are available in several preparations, including lozenges, gums, inhalers, and nasal sprays. These products deliver a small, controlled dose of nicotine. The most effective way to use nicotine-replacement therapies is to combine a long-acting nicotine patch with a short-acting product and plan to extend treatment over 12 weeks.2
Bupropion and varenicline are two prescription medications that help smokers overcome nicotine addiction. Smokers who use these medications or nicotine-replacement therapies double their chance of success.1
Strong evidence also supports behavioral therapy as a treatment option for smoking cessation. The best results are achieved when medications and behavioral therapies are combined. While medication helps ease the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Behavioral support enhances motivation and builds confidence in successfully achieving your goal. There is a dose response to counseling. The longer someone stays involved in counseling, the more likely they will be successful.2
Timeline: How Long Does It Take to Quit Smoking?
The first two to three days after you quit smoking will be the worst. Withdrawal symptoms are most severe immediately after you stop smoking. In the first few hours after you stop smoking, you may notice mood changes, increased hunger, difficulty sleeping, fidgeting, and tingling in your hands and feet.
After the first day, you may notice increased nicotine cravings, irritability, sleep problems, anxiety, and restlessness. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms peak within three to seven days after you stop smoking. If you use nicotine-replacement therapies, withdrawal symptoms will not be as intense, but the timeline will be drawn out longer.
Over the next few weeks, you will probably notice decreased cravings. Cravings are less frequent and intense, and more manageable. When you were smoking, you inhaled nicotine. It travels directly to your brain and is bound to nicotinic cholinergic receptors. This triggered the release of dopamine, reinforcing smoking as a positive behavior. You may notice a low mood and anxiety as your brain chemistry changes, but your brain will adapt. To quit smoking, you must overcome nicotine dependence, cope with nicotine withdrawal, and extinguish the smoking habits you have developed over the years.1
Depending on how much you were smoking, it may take a month before you start feeling like yourself again, but remember you are getting health benefits from the very first hour after you stop smoking, and the more distance you put between yourself and your last cigarette, the healthier you become. Smoking increases your risk for heart attacks, stroke, cancer, lung disease, eye disease, dental problems, and osteoporosis.
Are you ready to take that first step toward quitting smoking? If so, remember that 24-hour doctor access is available. You can get medical care from an online doctor any time of the day or night.
What Are the Benefits of Quitting Smoking?
There are so many health benefits to quitting smoking. Here are just a few to motivate you to a healthier future.
Health benefits of quitting smoking:
- Reduced cancer risk
- Lower heart rate and blood pressure
- Reduced stroke risk
- Better fertility
- Reduced diabetes risk
- Improved blood vessel function
- Fewer wrinkles
- Better skin color
According to the World Health Organization, within 20 minutes after smoking cessation, your heart rate and blood pressure will drop. Over the next 12 hours, carbon monoxide levels in your blood decrease. This will allow your red blood cells to carry more oxygen so that you will feel more energetic. Over the next weeks to months, your lung function will improve, and your risk of chronic diseases will begin to decline.
Quitting smoking also benefits the people around you as their health improves. They are no longer breathing in second-hand smoke.
What Resources Are Available to Help with Quitting?
In addition to online doctors who can see you from the comfort of your home and write online prescriptions for medications to help with smoking cessation, other resources available to help with smoking cessation include:
- Quitlines: these telephone-based resources are available in every U.S. state. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-800-784-8669
- Text messaging support: Text QUITNOW to 333888 for free help in English and Spanish
- Websites: CDC’s Tips From Former Smokers® campaign and National Cancer Institute’s Smokefree.gov
- Smartphone apps: The National Cancer Institute’s quitSTART app
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
- Rigotti NA. Strategies to Help a Smoker Who Is Struggling to Quit. JAMA. 2012;308(15):1573–1580. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.13043
- Fiore MC, Jaen CR, Baker TB, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Public Health Service; 2008. May, Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: 2008 Update.