The Reasons We Crave Cigarettes a Few Months After Quitting

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A Verywell  reader asks: 

Why Am I Craving Cigarettes Three Months After I Quit Smoking?

I quit smoking cold turkey almost three months ago. I've had my ups and downs in that time, but feel that I've been making progress overall. In the last week or so though, I've been thinking about smoking a lot and it's getting worse. I know the nicotine is long gone from my body, but I swear I'm having cravings for a cigarette that feel just like nicotine withdrawal. Why is this happening to me, and will I always feel this way?

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It is unnerving to have smoking thoughts and urges resurface months after quitting. However, from what you're describing, everything you're feeling is within the "normal" range of what can be expected as we recover from nicotine addiction.

The Three Month Mark Can Be Challenging

This is a notoriously bad time for people quitting tobacco, so much so that there is a term for it coined by ex-smokers known as The Icky Threes. It defines three tricky time periods during the first year of smoking cessation that many folks stumble over - three days, three weeks, and three months.

At the three-month mark, people often experience somewhat of a letdown - a case of the blahs, so to speak. The rush or excitement of quitting has worn off, but we haven't yet completed the healing process from nicotine addiction. We're still thinking about smoking, and most of us are still feeling the urge to smoke now and then.

It can leave a person feeling edgy and sad. We wonder if we'll always be doomed to feel this way.

Where Those Cravings to Smoke Are Coming From

It's not surprising that you're experiencing cravings to smoke that remind you of nicotine withdrawal. Our minds have a powerful influence over our bodies, and a strong focus on thoughts of smoking can bring on some very real physical reactions.

Sensations like tension in the throat, neck and stomach, as well as jumpy nerves and headaches are common, and mimic the responses we had to physical withdrawal from nicotine. Don't confuse the two, though. Thoughts of smoking are just that; thoughts.  

It is important to consciously acknowledge to yourself that the origin of your discomfort is in your mind and that nicotine is not playing a part in this scenario. Taking stock of what is behind your urge to smoke is a first step in regaining control over errant thoughts that can lead to trouble.

Remind yourself that you're doing the work now to change the mental responses you have to smoking triggers, and with practice, those thoughts (and the urges that come with them) will fade away.

Use the Tools That Helped with Nicotine Withdrawal

As you did during the first days of smoking cessation, use distraction to help you get your mind off smoking. Be proactive and deal with each craving as it comes up.

The good news is that this is a phase in the recovery process that almost everyone goes through.

Some face the challenges you're feeling at two months, some at four, and for a few lucky ones, not at all. But most of us do go through some form of this "letdown" that brings up unpleasant thoughts of smoking.

It will pass...as long as you don't smoke.

Pamper, Pamper, Pamper

Managing the bumpy days that are bound to come and go during the first several months of cessation will be much easier when your batteries are fully charged. Choose activities that relax and rejuvenate you, and get enough sleep while you're at it. Proper nutrition (and plenty of water) will help ease your tension as well. Get some daily exercise too, even if only a short walk or two.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is get out of our own way! If you're spiraling downward, take it as a cue to treat yourself with kid gloves - spoil yourself a little. Don't think of it as being selfish - think of it as good therapy, because that's just what it is.

Time and Patience: Two Great Quit Buddies

Promise yourself that you'll dedicate the entire first year of smoking cessation to healing from nicotine addiction. All of it.  It takes that long to work your way through the many activities in daily life that you associate with smoking on one level or another.

Think of time and patience (with self, mostly) as two of your best quit buddies, because they absolutely are. If you can relax and let time pass, it will help you heal. There's a lot of truth in the old adage that time heals all. Time really is a wonderful tool for changing our lives - as long as we can be patient enough to let it do its work.

So, know that while you're feeling raw and unhappy right now,  all of this discomfort will pass if you just keep applying yourself to the task at hand one simple day at a time. Take comfort in the fact that you are not the only person who has struggled at this point in the cessation process.

As Winston Churchill said so wisely:

  • "If you're going through hell, keep going."

The only way out is through when it comes to healing from this addiction.

The Power of Support

Use our smoking cessation support forum as a collective shoulder to lean on. You'll find wisdom, compassion and camaraderie available there in large doses. Don't deny yourself the advantage of this wonderful community of people who are either going through what you are, or have been there and can lend perspective.

And don't fear the ups and downs that come with quitting smoking. Cravings to smoke are not signs of impending failure, they are signs that you are healing from both the physical addiction you have to nicotine, and the psychological associations you have with smoking as well.

Keep your eye on the prize and do the work it takes to quit successfully. The rewards are outstanding and you'll love the person you become without the chains of this killer habit weighing you down.

Believe in yourself and you can free yourself.

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