Quitting Smoking Isn’t All Roses

I’ve experienced a litany of withdrawal symptoms since giving up cigarettes, but I’m happy to suffer through them.

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Photo by Biel Morro on Unsplash

I smoked cigarettes almost my entire adult life.

It’s been a constant struggle for me to quit — I’ve muscled through the withdrawal symptoms countless times, only to go right back to the habit a week later.

This year, I’ve been particularly focused on finally giving up the habit, but I ended up spending most of the year in nicotine-replacement-therapy limbo.

Recently though, I’ve finally made real progress.

I’ve been completely nicotine-free for the past five weeks — No cigarettes and no nicotine patches.

Last week I wrote about all of the positive benefits that I’ve already started to experience:

Unfortunately, the positive benefits are only one half of the story.

I’ve also gone through some difficult withdrawal symptoms. Although the acute withdrawal period only lasted a few days, I’m still experiencing more minor symptoms even today, five weeks out.

I wanted to share them so that anyone else who plans to quit will know what to expect, and won’t let the symptoms derail their progress.

Trouble Sleeping

The most frustrating thing I’ve experienced is a lot of trouble sleeping. I’ve been having trouble both falling asleep and staying asleep.

I used to have insomnia all the time, but for the past couple years it had gone away. It’s frustrating to have to deal with it again.

One change that I’ve made just over the past few days is to cut down on caffeine.

I think that my caffeine intake has actually climbed since I quit smoking, and that alone may be accounting for a lot of the trouble.

I’ve also been having a lot of dreams about cigarettes, which leave me waking up in a bad mood.

Canker Sores

Canker sores are another blast from the past for me. I used to get them all the time as a little kid, but they have been extremely rare for me in my adult life.

Since quitting smoking, I’ve noticed them starting again.

It’s a common symptom of quitting, and should hopefully go away within a few months.


A much bigger problem that I’ve experienced is that I’m getting angry at everything and everyone since I quit smoking.

My temper is going wild, even though I’m trying as hard as I can to keep it under control.

Everything that would normally upset me just a little is now getting me angry all day. I feel like a real-life Hulk, only not so big and green.

I keep reminding myself that the emotions I’m experiencing are not reasonable and that they are just the result of quitting smoking.


On a lighter note, I’ve had a bad outbreak of acne for the last month, which is very unusual for me.

Although there doesn’t seem to be a direct medical link between quitting smoking and acne, there are countless anecdotes about people experiencing breakouts when quitting.

I’ve been reading up on why this might be the case, and there are a few plausible theories: it may be the increased stress, eating more junk food, or fidgeting and touching your face more often. I think all three are reasonable contenders for me.

Most people say that this only lasts a few months and will go away soon enough.


Finally, I’ve been coughing a lot since I stopped smoking.

It seems ironic since smoking can cause a chronic cough, but most people actually get a worse cough for a few months when they quit.

This is related to your throat recovering and the symptoms don’t last.

The cough is a bit annoying, but not too painful or disruptive.

The Symptoms Are Worth It

It may sound like a lot of symptoms, but the truth is I barely even mind.

Why not?

Because the symptoms are worth it. The other choice is to go on smoking forever, and the symptoms of that are far worse.

Is a cough or mild insomnia really such a big deal compared to heart failure or cancer? Of course not.

Over the past month, I’ve been trying to really keep in mind the long-term effects of smoking.

It’s easy to end up craving cigarettes when I just think in the short-term. When I remember the long-term effects though, I know that it’s worth suffering a little now if it means I can finally drop this terrible vice.

Quitting cigarettes has not been easy, but I’m ready to stick with it, no matter what it takes.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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