For smokers who want to stop, quitting permanently is the desired outcome. But is quitting smoking cold turkey the right way to go about it? Some people believe that going cold turkey is the best route, because it allows nicotine to leave your system quickly. Others believe that going cold turkey makes withdrawal symptoms so difficult to cope with that it’s almost impossible not to give into cravings at some point.
The problem with going cold turkey is that there are two distinct components of nicotine addiction:
- Physical dependency. Nicotine is a stimulant and one of the most dependency-inducing drugs. Even the good feelings you attribute to smoking (for example, relaxation or improved concentration) are really due to relief of the withdrawal effects that come on between cigarettes.
- Psychological dependency. No matter how much or how little you smoke, smoking usually takes on a daily pattern, where certain situations trigger the urge for a cigarette (for example, with a cup of coffee, after a meal, or when you’re on the telephone). As well as these daily habits, you probably associate certain psychological benefits to smoking, for example, as a way to overcome anxiety, shyness or boredom.
Overcoming these dependencies by going cold turkey is incredibly difficult. A 2010 survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 69% of smokers said that they wanted to quit smoking and 52% of smokers had tried to quit cold turkey in the past year; unfortunately, only 6% of those who tried to quit were still nonsmokers one year later. In fact, some studies have found that between about 50% and 75% of quit attempts fail within the first week, when both the physical and psychological cravings for nicotine are at their worst.
That’s why preparing to quit – and having a quit plan in place – is really important. This includes picking a date to quit, identifying your smoking triggers, developing a strategy to deal with withdrawal symptoms and choosing the quit method that’s right for you.
Some people find that using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is a helpful method of quitting smoking. In fact, a number of studies have shown that people who use NRT have a better chance of success. NRT has been shown to be safe and effective in more than 150 clinical studies, and it increases quit rates by about 60%, compared with placebo. To read more about your NRT options – including nicotine gum, lozenges, inhalers and mouth sprays – click here.