What Happens If You Suddenly Stop Smoking?

Reviewed on 11/24/2020

If you can manage the cravings and irritability, there are zero health drawbacks to quitting smoking. Your body starts healing from tobacco damage within even just 20 minutes of quitting.
If you can manage the cravings and irritability, there are zero health drawbacks to quitting smoking. Your body starts healing from tobacco damage within even just 20 minutes of quitting.

According to the 2004 U.S. Surgeon General's Report, within 20 minutes of smoking the last cigarette, health benefits start to occur in the body almost immediately. 

  • 20 minutes after quitting
    • Heart rate drops
  • 12 hours after quitting
    • Carbon monoxide levels in the blood drop to normal
  • 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting
    • Heart attack risk begins to drop
    • Lung function begins to improve
  • 1 to 9 months after quitting
    • Cough and shortness of breath decrease
  • 1 year after quitting
    • The added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s
  • 5 years after quitting
    • Stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker’s 5-15 years after quitting
  • 10 years after quitting
    • Lung cancer death rate is about half that of a smoker’s
    • Risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreas decreases
  • 15 years after quitting
    • Risk of coronary heart disease is back to that of a nonsmoker’s

What Are Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms?

There are healthy benefits of quitting smoking that occur almost as soon as one stops smoking, but there are a number of other changes the body experiences when trying to kick the habit. 

Nicotine withdrawal can be a difficult part of trying to quit smoking. The body becomes addicted to nicotine over time, so when you stop smoking your body goes through withdrawal. 

  • Withdrawal symptoms usually last less than two weeks
  • It may feel uncomfortable but is not dangerous

Common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include:

  • Cigarette/nicotine cravings (see below) 
  • Feeling down or sad
  • Problems sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Feeling on edge
  • Problems thinking clearly and concentrating
  • Restlessness
  • Slower heart rate
  • Increased hunger/appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Depression

What Are Triggers for Cigarette Cravings?

Cigarette/nicotine cravings may last longest of all the withdrawal symptoms. Cravings can be triggered by reminders of smoking such as people or places. Understanding triggers for smoking can help quitters plan to deal with them. 

Most triggers fall into one of four categories:

  • Emotional: these are intense emotions that cause you to want to smoke
  • Pattern: this is an activity that is connected with smoking in your life
    • Talking on the phone
    • Drinking alcohol or coffee
    • Watching TV
    • Driving
    • After a meal
    • On a work break
    • After sex
    • Before bed
  • Social: these are occasions in which you smoke, usually with others 
    • At a bar
    • At a party
    • At a concert
    • Celebrations
    • Being with others who smoke
    • Seeing others smoke
  • Withdrawal: this is the body withdrawing from nicotine
    • Handling cigarettes, lighters, and matches
    • Craving the taste of a cigarette
    • Smelling cigarette smoke
    • Needing to do something with your hands or mouth
    • Feeling restless or having other withdrawal symptoms


What is the average weight gain for those who quit smoking? See Answer

How Can I Cope with Triggers?

Learning to deal with smoking triggers is important in quitting smoking. 

How to cope with emotional triggers: 

  • Talk about how you’re feeling with someone you trust
  • Deep breathing
  • Exercise 
  • Listen to relaxing music

How to cope with pattern triggers:

  • Break the association with the trigger and transfer the feeling to another activity
  • Find a new activity such as chewing sugar-free gum
  • Keep your hands busy with knitting, squeezing a ball, or holding onto a coin
  • Exercise

Change your routine, for example, drink coffee at different times of day or in different locations

How to deal with social triggers: 

  • Avoid places where people smoke 
  • Ask friends not to smoke around you

How to deal with withdrawal triggers: 

  • Find distractions to take your mind off cravings
  • Nicotine replacement therapy may also help people manage cravings

Will I Gain Weight When I Quit Smoking?

Weight gain can occur when people stop smoking. A common withdrawal symptom is increased appetite. Coupled with a slower metabolism, this can lead to overeating and weight gain. To keep extra pounds off: 

  • Eat mindfully
    • Many people eat for the same reasons they smoke: stress, social occasions, boredom, as a reward
    • Only eat when you’re hungry and pay attention to why you are eating 
  • Eat slowly and enjoy food
  • Control portions
  • Exercise regularly 
  • Learn to deal with emotions without smoking so you don’t turn to eating instead

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Reviewed on 11/24/2020