I quit smoking just over a year ago, and the hardest part of the experience was resisting the cravings. The urge to smoke a cigarette was sometimes so strong that it took everything in me to get past it.
There were many times that it felt like the cravings would never end. I worried that I’d constantly be thinking about smoking for the rest of my life. Fortunately, that was not the case.
Below is the timeline of my experience with cigarette cravings. Although everyone’s mind and body react slightly differently to quitting smoking, I hope that my experiences can give others a ballpark idea of what to expect.
The First Three Days
During my first three days without cigarettes, my cravings were constant. I woke up thinking about smoking, and I went to bed thinking about smoking.
Shortly after quitting, I began experiencing all kinds of withdrawal symptoms, including headaches and a confused, foggy mind. These symptoms acted as a constant trigger for my cravings. I kept thinking that if I could just have a cigarette, all of these symptoms would disappear.
I was very frustrated when I looked up advice for getting through the cravings. Many websites stated that cravings only lasted a few minutes, and suggested that by distracting myself I could get through them. This didn’t match my experience at all.
My cravings weren’t just a few minutes, they were literally the main thing on my mind for days. Distractions helped a tiny amount for getting through them, but I relied much more heavily on visualization techniques.
Specifically, I tried to visualize what would happen if I gave into my cravings, compared with what would happen if I resisted. I knew that giving in would lead me right back to another painful quitting attempt. Resisting was my only real path forward.
Day 4 to Day 30
After the first few days, my cravings gradually became less constant. Unfortunately, they were still on my mind for the vast majority of my first month without cigarettes.
Even after three or four weeks without smoking, I rarely got through an hour without an intense craving. These often felt just as difficult to resist as they had during my first few days without cigarettes.
Going to the places that I normally bought cigarettes, like the gas station and grocery store, was incredibly difficult. I tried to always spend as little time as possible in the grocery store, so that I wouldn’t have the chance to talk myself into buying a pack of cigarettes on the way out.
The one good thing about this period is that my cravings consistently got better with each day. Even though it was still incredibly hard not to smoke, I could tell that it was getting less hard, which made it possible to believe that eventually it might be easy.
Six Months Later
After half a year without nicotine, I still had regularly occurring cravings, but they had drastically reduced in frequency. At this point, I was only getting one or two cravings a day, and sometimes went entire days without cravings.
The other big distinction was that by the time I reached six months, my cravings were almost always brought on by very specific triggers — normally seeing someone else smoking a cigarette. I almost never had cravings which just popped up out of nowhere.
The cravings themselves were also much easier to resist. They didn’t last as long, so I was able to finally start following the advice of just distracting myself for a few minutes.
Shortly after this half-year mark, my daily cravings finally started to end.
Eleven Months After Quitting
As I approached the end of my first year without cigarettes, my cravings had become extremely rare. Although I did still occasionally crave a smoke, I’d often go a week or more without thinking about it.
Things changed when I faced a completely unexpected challenge: getting laid off from my job due to coronavirus downsizing. The lay off was the most stressful thing that had happened to me since quitting, and my immediate thought was “I need a cigarette.”
I spent at least a week afterward thinking about going back to smoking. I had more cravings during this time than the entire previous half year combined.
Fortunately, the cravings were still not as difficult to resist as they had been when I first quit smoking. I had spent long enough away from cigarettes that I knew I could make it through.
One of the thoughts that really kept me motivated was how close I was to reaching an entire year nicotine-free. Having already gone 11 months without a cigarette, I really wanted to reach a full year. Tracking milestones like this can be a great motivator when it comes to staying quit.
After a week or two had passed, the cravings eventually disappeared.
Today and Tomorrow
It’s been about two months since getting laid off and having a spike in my cravings. Since then, I’ve surprisingly had fewer cravings than ever.
I’ve talked with a few different former smokers who have stayed quit much longer than I have, but I’ve heard varying experiences from them. Some have said that their cravings eventually disappeared entirely, while others said that cravings never completely go away.
In my case, I don’t think I’ve had my last craving ever, but I also expect them to continue being a rare occurrence. It seems like these days, I need a very strong trigger before I start thinking about smoking a cigarette.
I’m certainly grateful to be past my first few weeks without nicotine. Those intense, constant cravings were nearly unbearable. Fortunately, they subsided after the first month.
Getting through the first month without cigarettes was incredibly hard, but these days, staying smoke-free is far easier. I’m proud of myself for having stuck with it, and having finally left such an unhealthy habit behind.