Can you really quit smoking cold turkey?
Reviewed by our clinical team
After consuming endless cold turkey sandwiches over Christmas, January is time for another type of cold turkey – quitting smoking. Often seen as one of the hardest ways to quit, we look at the pros and cons of going cold turkey and offer some alternative ways to quit your habit.
Can you really go cold turkey?
The short answer is ‘Yes’. Many people have done it and for some it has proven to be very effective. By going cold turkey you’re not giving yourself any wiggle room – no more ‘Just one more cigarette’ or ‘Only when I’m out drinking’. While the gradual technique works for some, for others it gives them an excuse to start smoking again and simply opens the floodgates.
However, it can be hard, because the cold turkey approach can cause severe nicotine withdrawal symptoms. These can include irritability, fatigue, headache, insomnia, constipation, sweating, coughing, poor concentration, depression, increased appetite, and cravings for tobacco.
There’s also the psychological addiction to smoking to consider. While cold turkey is the fastest way to get the nicotine out of your system, it doesn’t do anything to mitigate your psychological dependence on smoking. Smoking can be a very social activity, and can be used as a coping tool for nervous or stressed people. By going cold turkey you don’t tackle this side of your habit.
However, for those who are quitting because of a serious smoking-related health problem, cold turkey can be the quickest way to improve your health or to keep it from further deteriorating.
There are things you can do to improve your chances of successfully quitting smoking cold turkey:
- Quit when you’re least likely to smoke – Don’t try and quit before the weekend if you love a smoke with a drink.
- Distract yourself – When you go cold turkey you’re going to be thinking about smoking a lot – try and keep your hands and mind active with other activities.
- Stay calm – stress can make you want a cigarette so try and avoid stressful situations.
- Avoid other smokers – the sight and smell of smoking can make you want one, not to mention the peer pressure of your smoking friends
- Drink water – when you quit, you’ll often get thirsty and feel the need for something in your mouth. Carry a bottle of water with you and sip it when you need a cigarette.
- Have a reason – it could be health related, a new partner who doesn’t like smoking or a new baby in the family. Whatever it is, finding a good reason can help you quit cold turkey.
There are a number of other methods to quit smoking. Here we list a few alternatives to cold turkey:
Prescription-only medicines, like Champix, can greatly increase your chances of successfully quitting smoking. They tend to work by relieving the craving and withdrawal symptoms associated with giving up smoking. They are also good as they don’t contain nicotine.
Nicotine patched/chewing gums
These have been around for a while now but are effective in helping you quit. On top of the usual gums and patches are thing like lozenges and nasal sprays. They give you a nicotine boost without the nasty side-effects of smoking. Nicotine patches slowly release nicotine into the bloodstream to reduce withdrawal symptoms, while inhalers give you an intense hit to combat cravings.
Change your habits
Smoking is a lifestyle choice and you might need to look at your social habits if you want to quit. If you have a certain group of friends that smoke a lot, maybe stay away from them until you’ve quit. If you smoke more at night, then meet friends during the day. Taking up exercise can also help as it distracts the mind, gives your endorphins to make you happy and helps stop the weight gain that is associated with quitting.
Quitting alone can be hard. Speak with your friends and family and tell them you’re trying to quit and ask them to help – whether it be by not smoking in front or you or giving you’re a nudge if you’re about to light up. There are also a number of helplines that can offer support and advice, such as the NHS stop smoking service.