Why You Crave Cigarettes Months After Quitting
You may have quit smoking months ago, but you still find yourself craving a cigarette. Former smokers can become triggered by the time of day, places, activities, emotions, and other people who smoke.Suddenly, you have the urge to smoke again.
It is unnerving to have smoking thoughts and urges resurface months after quitting. However, this is a normal part of recovery from nicotine addiction. Fortunately, you can learn what is behind your urges, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and regain control over your cravings.
How Long Do Cravings Last?
Right after you quit smoking, your body goes through nicotine withdrawal. Extreme cravings for cigarettes throughout the day are normal, but they generally subside (along with other symptoms of withdrawal) about three to four weeks after quitting.
Months after you quit smoking, you may still experience urges to smoke—although they are usually less frequent than when you first quit. Participants of one study reported they felt cravings for as long as six months after quitting smoking.
Another study found that people who quit smoking were much less likely to experience cravings after their one-year mark of quitting.4 In other words, the longer you go without smoking, the less intense your cravings should be.
What Causes Cravings?
You're not alone if you experience cravings months after quitting. One study found that former smokers experienced common triggers that made them want to smoke again. These included:
·Seeing someone smoke
·Being in a place where they used to smoke
If you're experiencing cravings months after you quit smoking, it's likely triggered by something you're feeling or something in your environment. Our emotions—like happiness, sadness, and boredom—can also increase cigarette cravings.
Emotions can act as triggers for smoking. When you're really happy or really upset, you might notice a sudden craving for a cigarette.
One study found that participants who had quit smoking were most likely to crave cigarettes during high-stress situations, like meeting a tight deadline at work.
Time of day also played a role—people were more likely to crave cigarettes as the day went on, craving them least in the mornings and most in the evenings.
Maybe you would always smoke when drinking alcohol. Or maybe you're used to smoking while you drive your car, or when you go out with friends. Doing these things after you've quit smoking can definitely trigger a craving.
Research has shown that genetics may even play a role in cigarette cravings. You may be genetically predisposed to having longer-lasting cravings after quitting.
Remind yourself that you're doing the work now to change the mental responses you have to smoking triggers. With practice, those thoughts (and the urges that come with them) will fade away.
How to Relieve Cravings
As you did during the first days of smoking cessation, it's helpful to get your mind off smoking. Be proactive and deal with each craving as it comes up. This is a phase in the recovery process that almost everyone goes through.
Try Some Lifestyle Changes
Managing these bumpy days and months into your smoking cessation will be much easier when your batteries are fully charged.
Find activities that relax and rejuvenate you. Good nutrition and regular sleep can help ease your tension. Daily exercise, even a short walk, can improve your mood and energy levels.
If you feel like your cravings are becoming more intense, take it as a cue to treat yourself and engage in more self-care. You might avoid situations temporarily—like going to a bar or to a party where people will be smoking—if you know they'll trigger you.
If an urge to smoke catches you off guard, you might engage in some mindfulness meditation or breathing exercises. Simply stay in the moment without acting on your urges. This will remind you that the moment will pass and so will the craving.
You can find more coping strategies that work for you by following the five Ds of smoking cessation: delay, distract, drink water, deep breathing, and discuss.
Reach Out for Support
When you feel a craving, make a plan of action. Reach out to a trusted family member or friend who can offer encouragement while you wait for the craving to pass.
Becoming part of a support group for quitting smoking can give you motivation as well. If you can, reach out to someone from your in-person or online support group. Or, try downloading a quit smoking app on your phone. You can check the app any time you are craving a cigarette.
Talk to Your Doctor
If you're having trouble managing your cravings, talk to your doctor about your options. Some people find nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) a useful method to stay away from cigarettes. NRT gives your body small doses of nicotine without the toxic chemicals in cigarettes.
NRT comes in lozenges, mouth sprays, gum, or patches. Talk to your doctor about the best type of NRT for you. There are also medications to help you quit smoking such as Zyban (bupropion) and Chantix (varenicline tartrate); however, these may be most effective when taken before quitting smoking, so it's best to talk to your doctor.