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Dangers of Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey

With New Year’s right around the corner, you’re probably thinking up your latest resolutions for renewed health and vigor. If you smoke, quitting probably tops your list every year. It’s no secret that trying to stop smoking is hard. Most people try and fail several times before finally recovering. It’s not because you lack willpower. Nicotine, the main psychoactive ingredient in tobacco, is highly addictive.

Going cold turkey seems to some like the easiest way to quit smoking. However, there are many drawbacks and dangers you may experience with the cold turkey method.

Why Is It So Hard to Quit Cold Turkey?

Nicotine addiction is the main reason people find it so difficult to reduce or quit smoking.

Quitting cold turkey means to stop using all tobacco products and fight your way through any withdrawal symptoms that arise. Yet, if you stop using nicotine all at once, this action can disrupt your body’s chemical balance. You may experience intense physical and psychological side effects. Nicotine is a stimulant drug that causes mild stimulation by boosting dopamine levels and activating the brain’s reward center.

When people use tobacco products for an extended time, they may experience nicotine dependence and a huge list of serious health problems.

Is Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey Dangerous?

Quitting smoking cold turkey does not put your life or health in danger. However, unpleasant and sometimes painful withdrawal symptoms can seriously impact your emotional and physical wellbeing during the recovery process.

Each year, fewer than one in 10 adults are able to successfully quit smoking. One reason may be that most of those who try to quit rely on willpower alone to ditch the habit. Quitting cold turkey presents many risks to a successful recovery, including:

  • Intense cravings
  • Psychological symptoms of withdrawal
  • Cheating, such as sneaking a cigarette or two
  • Giving up and returning to one’s old smoking habits

Side Effects of Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey

What happens to your body when you stop smoking cold turkey? Some people experience mild withdrawal symptoms for a few days. Others struggle with intense cravings and side effects for weeks.

You can expect withdrawal symptoms to set in anywhere from four to 24 hours after your last cigarette. For most people, withdrawal peaks about three days after quitting, gradually tapering off over the next three to four weeks. It’s not uncommon to feel intense cravings when you encounter familiar places or situations where you used to smoke.

While some people can successfully ward off withdrawal symptoms and cravings, others find these sensations too much to bear.

Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal When Quitting Cold Turkey

The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are twofold — with both physical and psychological components. Some of the unpleasant physical side effects of nicotine withdrawal when quitting cold turkey include:

  • Restlessness
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Digestive problems, such as constipation
  • Increased appetite
  • Cramping
  • Sleep disturbances

The physical effects of quitting may only last for a few days while the nicotine leaves your body. Yet, the psychological impact of nicotine withdrawal can last much longer. These symptoms include:

  • Intense nicotine cravings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Depressed mood

Effective Ways to Quit Smoking

Quitting cold turkey isn’t the only way to stop smoking. Many other methods address the physical and psychological effects of quitting nicotine. Here are some other ways people have found success.

1. Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is a method of quitting that involves using small amounts of nicotine to wean off the addictive substance. You gradually reduce your dosage of nicotine over time until no further treatment is needed. Examples of NRT include:

  • Skin patches
  • Chewing gum
  • Nasal or mouth sprays
  • Inhalators
  • Tablets

While NRT is a popular and often successful method of treating nicotine addiction, some people still experience withdrawal symptoms.

2. Medication

If you are having difficulty quitting, you can talk to your doctor who may be able to prescribe a specialized medication to help. These drugs can help reduce cravings and block the rewarding effects of smoking.

3. Counseling

Though NRTs and medication can help reduce your physical dependence on nicotine, these methods don’t deal with addiction’s psychological side effects. Counseling, in conjunction with other techniques, may be a valuable addition. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one option that helps you learn more about why your smoke — including how to address and combat triggers.

Get Help Quitting Smoking

Smoking is dangerous. It’s linked to a variety of severe health conditions, and it can also put your loved ones at risk through secondhand smoke. If you would like to learn more about quitting, the team at Gateway Foundation can help. We invite you to contact us online today.

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