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. – www.drugabuse.gov
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;
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
- Chest discomfort
- Cough or nasal drip
- Lack of concentration
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. – www.drugabuse.gov
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.”
- 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.