The Cold Turkey Method to Quitting Smoking.

Quitting smoking cold turkey is a term used to describe smoking cessation attempts that require complete abstinence from nicotine or substance use. This means quitting cigarettes without any form of medicinal aid or stepping down program.

You Can Quit Smoking Cold Turkey!


For most smokers, the idea of quitting smoking cold turkey tends to generate a sense of dread. Many smokers genuinely believe and feel, that complete abstinence is simply not possible, at least for them.

With that in mind, it is surprising to find that going cold turkey from cigarettes appears to be one of the most common methods used by long term, successful ex smokers. Quitting smoking cold turkey sure isn’t easy, but it is doable.

While going cold turkey is perhaps the most difficult or intense way to stop smoking; it is also the fastest way to heal from the chemical dependency to nicotine. This is because the less nicotine there is in the brain, the more rapidly down-regulation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors can occur.

Note: If you are unsure of how nicotine works on the brain or you are unfamiliar with the process, down-regulation, I recommend reading these tutorials concerning nicotine and its affect on the brain….


What Happens When You Quit Smoking Cold Turkey?

The first 7-14 days of a cold turkey quit campaign are the most physically intense. It involves the breaking down of many neural pathways linking to and from the reward center of the brain. It also involves the process known as down-regulation, where the brain’s excessive nicotine receptors gradually decline to non smoker levels over a period of 4 – 6 weeks.

Smokers continue to show elevated amounts of the receptors through 4 weeks of abstinence, but levels normalize by 6 to 12 weeks. –


How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your Blood After Quitting Smoking?


It is difficult to say exactly how long nicotine will remain in your blood, as smokers smoke at different rates and smoke different cigarette strengths. I have read articles that suggest it can take anywhere from 72 hrs to 10 days, but to date, have not found anything definitive.

We can however, get a good idea based on the half life of nicotine, or in lay terms, the time it takes for nicotine levels in the blood to halve.

According to wikipedia;

The elimination half-life of nicotine in the body is around two hours.

Using that as a guide, we can approximate the following timeframe for elimination of nicotine from the blood, as follows;

  • 0 Hours 100%
  • 2 Hours 50%
  • 4 Hours 25%
  • 6 Hours 12.5%
  • 8 Hours 6.25%
  • 10 hours 3.125%
  • 12 Hours 1.5625%
  • 14 Hours 0.78%
  • 16 Hours 0.39%
  • 18 Hrs 0.195%
  • 20 Hrs Less than 0.1%
  • 22 Hrs Less than 0.05%
  • 24 Hours Less than 0.025%

From this, I would think it reasonable to estimate the complete elimination of nicotine from the body, occurring some time around the first 72 hours of quitting smoking cold turkey.


What are the Short to Medium Term Symptoms of Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey?

According to wikipedia, the common effects and symptoms of quitting smoking cold turkey can be briefly summarised as;

  • Cravings for Tobacco
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Chest discomfort
  • Constipation
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Cough or nasal drip
  • Lack of concentration
  • Hunger

For more info concerning the side effects of quitting smoking, consult this quit smoking side effects timeline.


How Long Will the Short to Medium Term Symptoms of Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey Last?


The intensity of chemical withdrawal symptoms, such as cravings, is largely determined by the difference between the availability of nicotine in the brain and the number of empty nicotinic acetylcholine receptors.  One would expect cravings and other withdrawal symptoms to peak when the difference is at its greatest.

In smokers who quit cold turkey, the brain has a big adjustment to make—excess receptors and little nicotine to fill them,” says investigator Dr. Julie K. Staley of Yale University School of Medicine. –

The first 3 days to 5 days of quitting smoking cold turkey tends to be hardest. Having said that, many quitters have expressed to me they experienced peaks as late as 7-10 days. I myself peaked around days 4-5.

How Long Does it Take to Quit Smoking Cold Turkey?

It really depends on the physiology of the smoker, how long they smoked and what strength of tobacco they smoked.

Once the short term chemical symptoms of quitting smoking are overcome; the cold turkey quitter can focus on areas of the brain still hijacked by nicotine.

Long term recovery involves the repairing of brain tissue that has been manipulated by addiction, particularly areas associated with memory and emotion. See The Path To Nicotine Addiction Recovery for more info.

A heavy smoker can expect it to take some time between 6-12 months for significant long term recovery. I personally found things really improved around 10 months into my own cold turkey quit.

Tips on How to Quit Smoking Cold Turkey Step by Step.


Based on my own experience and the experience of other ex smokers.


Seek and Set a Realistic Quit Date.


  • Try and avoid spur of the moment quits. It pays to be well prepared, physically and emotionally.
  • Consider taking a week off work. If you have sick leave entitlements, talk to your doctor!
  • Plan events around your quit date to make things a lot easier when the day comes. Avoid social engagements until you are at least free of the chemical dependency.
  • Consider giving yourself some time and space to be physically alone. For some, having the loved ones around can actually make the first few days a lot harder.


Seek Knowledge About Your Addiction.


  • Learn as much as possible about your addiction. Read the Know Your Addiction section of the Good Quit Guide.
  • If you truly understand what is happening to your brain when you quit smoking, you can separate your conscious and aware self, from the withdrawal symptoms you suffer, such as craving for, or wanting a cigarette.
  • With knowledge, you can accept and believe with confidence, that all thoughts and desires for cigarettes come from the physical disorder and not from your own “free will.” Without knowledge, the “junkie mind” is more powerful then your own “independent mind.”


Seek Support.


  • In addition to having the moral support of family and friends, having an expanded network of people available when you quit can be very influential towards being successful.
  • Consider joining support groups either online or in person.
  • Get in contact with as many ex smokers as possible. There are no better advocates for quitting then ex smokers!
  • Talk to your physician on a regular basis. Having a medical practitioner handy can not only help treat physical symptoms, but also provide peace of mind. Being able to measure your health improvement is also reassuring.
  • Consider using a 24 hour quit line. It can be handy to have someone to talk to straight away if things get tough.
  • Consider seeking professional counseling. Especially if you begin suffering depression.


Seek Natural Dopamine Highs.


  • If your appetite increases as a result of quitting, don’t be afraid to eat. Food consumption causes the brain to elevate dopamine levels, especially sugary foods. This can ease cravings and make it easier to get through the hardest period of withdrawal. This is something that should be discussed with a physician first, as certain foods may cause health complications, depending on the individuals physical condition.
  • Weight gain can be addressed separately, once the addiction to nicotine and smoking has been significantly healed.
  • Exercise stimulates the brain and also encourages new neural growth, meaning the overall healing process will be greatly enhanced by physical activity.



  1. annette smith says:

    the info on this site is so valuable to those wanting/starting to quit. to educate yourself on this subject is the best form of attack. pre-warned is pre-armed. i urge all new quitters t read.

  2. Thanks for the comment and feedback Annette 🙂

    “pre-warned is pre-armed” So true!

  3. How can I help my stubborn husband to take the decision and quit smoking?

  4. ron johnson says:

    I have stopped smoking now for 8 weeks now using the cold turkey method
    I still get the odd craving,especially in the morning but I am coping with that.
    Problem is I don’t feel any better.
    still suffering with feeling sick at times,anxiety attacks,digestive problems and insomnia. smoked for about 35 years so don’t expect it to be easy,but determined not to give in now

    any ideas to help me

    Ron J

  5. My going cold turkey experience.

    The D day was the 29th of August of 2013.
    What I have experienced:

    Dizziness – Just during the second morning
    Insomnia – Ahh Playtation and COD helped 🙂
    Irritability – Thank you workbuddies for your patience
    Hunger – Lots of Fruit helps 🙂 Apples

    What helped me alot was actualy putting my self doing all the thinks I like in live and not smoking. I have personaly celebrated every moment with “I did it because I enjoy doing this” and “I did not Smoke”

    I know I am just near the 2 months but after smoking from 17 years old until 37 years old, I think I can say with confidence, I quitted smoke.
    Thanks to this website for the all the clarification it did to me helping me understand my fealing trough the process.

  6. Hi 🙂
    This is really essential and crucial information that answers alot of my uncertainty. I attempted quitting numerous times. There’s two things have really inspired me to keep trying. Information from the net and experiences of everyone, I acknowledge this wont be easy but its definitely going to be worth the fight. Everything worth while requires some effort.

  7. Today is day 7 of my ct quit. I wish I had found this site prior to quitting simply so I would have been more informed. I was not expecting the symptoms of the withdraw to be so severe. My poor husband and kids these last couple of days. I’m a smoker of just under 20 years now. . Quit really easily when I found out I was pregnant. . Four times in fact for the entire pregnancies. .. then it was just like a boom a rang right back to it after they were born. This last week has been hard and is not been the cravings. . When I get that I just get up and walk around, after all that’s what I would be doing when I was smoking because we do not smoke in the house.. yes we. .my husband still smokes. It’s the mood swings and feeling like I’m not in control of myself and the insomnia. .. I’ve never had a nights trouble sleeping except when my daughter was in the icu . This last week in averaging 3 hours of broken sleep a night. . But in making it and today is a milestone in proud to made it to.

  8. Jeannie Demirci says:

    Thanks for the information. I’m 2 days in via Cold Turkey and having a hard time. After seeing your site I feel better about what I’m doing….. and I feel like I have support just knowing that everyone who quits goes through the symptoms.

    I’m going to continue on….. I really feel I have damaged my lungs and I want to quit because there are more things I want to do in life…… I’m not finished at 44 and I refuse to let cigarettes finish me first!

  9. I am just hitting the 3 days cold turkey mark. I have quit cold turkey previously for 6 weeks after smoking for 25 years. It was only 3 days of “pain” previously for me, so I am expecting the cravings to disappear after day 3 again.

    Once the cravings disappeared after 3 days previously and you psychologically expect to be a non smoker, you are pretty well done and free. If you have lasted the first 3 days. You can easily continue on afterwards as a non smoker. Only drink alcohol with non smokers and try to avoid smokers or always have a non smoker with you. Pity the smoker, addicted fool wasting their life and money, you are now a success.

    I find orange juice for some reason really helps with the cravings. I was stupid last time and restarted smoking where I actually hated the taste of a smoke but kept forcing myself to smoke them and it was disgusting. I enjoyed smelling clean for the first time in my life, not like smoke.

    The cravings are not severe on day 3 as in day 1 and 2, I am irritated and anxious but controllable. I know just one will undo everything being so close to freedom and its just a matter of time passing. They should recede massively now from day 4.

    Just be aware of what the craving is, it just drug addiction, it will pass, you will are free. Continue on my good friends. You must and have to do this, no excuses. Eat alot aswell and be happy with that.

    • Thank you for your insight. Preparation
      IS key! I really prepared this time! It’s hard but I feel in control. And I’m only around 2 people for 4 days, my husband & teenage son. They both know “the plan” and are helping. I told my friends we’re out of town for a 4 day weekend;) I am starting day 3 of quitting smoking this morning! Your comments are really helping as my cravings are stronger, stomaches may be from the candy & chocolate I’ve been eating for 2 days but I’ve stayed hydrated & exercised abit 🙂 I just wanted to know if it gets better soon & from you it sounds like I have 1 more day to get through! Thank you for your help. I have to go back to work in 2 days… any advice to prepare for a week of work hell?

  10. I am on day 10 & cannot believe how incredibly irratible and emotional I am! Is it normal to be so emotional? I cry for the simplest, tiny thing. Nothing makes me happy right now…I have tried the “space” approach & have been accused of pushing everyone away. I feel very proud of myself for doing this but I can’t help but feel like a failure in my relationships! I try continually to reassure myself these symptoms are temporary…but are they?

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