Quitting Smoking: How Long is the Road Ahead?


Sep 26, 2019


About 80% of heavy smokers admit that their habit has a detrimental effect on health. However, only 3% of them have managed to live without cigarettes for a year or more. [1] Others do not find the strength to say a resolute “no” to the addiction. In the following article we will discuss an important question: what prevents a person from giving up the bad habit forever? How shall the quitters act to maintain their decision and not backslide?




Why does nicotine addiction occur?

Many people, taking their first cigarette, are convinced that this “dalliance” will never escalate into addiction in their particular case. Confident in their own willpower, they reason like this:
“I’ll be able to give up smoking whenever I want.”

This is a dangerous misconception — for one cigarette will be followed by a second and a third, and then you will buy a new pack. Time will pass, and gradually you will understand that quitting smoking is not an easy task.

As a rule, the first time a cigarette is smoked is during adolescence. According to experts, there are purely psychological reasons that contribute to it, namely: [2]

  1. Social pressure. If a person is in the company of smokers, the risk of developing a tobacco dependence increases manyfold. In order not to feel like an outsider, he/she also begins to smoke. Those insecure individuals who aspire to become “insiders” in the company are at risk.
  2. A challenge to society. Smoking often becomes a kind of protest, which is especially noticeable in teenagers. In an attempt to prove to everyone around that he/she is already an adult, the youngster starts smoking. It is a result of ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking peculiar to youths.
  3. Influencer’s example. The probability of developing the bad habit increases if a person has been watching people he/she respected and loved indulging in smoking since childhood. While an adult can easily differentiate between a good example and a bad one, the teenager does not have such guidelines, which results in an unconscious desire to smoke. Children don’t think about the negative consequences, they merely want to look mature and important, like their parents or older friends.

Many people who start to smoke in adolescence are not able to rid themselves of the addiction for many years, even in adulthood, thus poisoning themselves with nicotine and smoke. There are also several psychological reasons for this: [2]

  1. Stress relief

Once in the brain, nicotine interacts with nerve receptors, resulting in the release of a small “portion” of the dopamine hormone, which positively stimulates the central nervous system. When the effect of this hormonal release ends, the next cigarette is needed. A kind of reflex action is gradually formed in a person: “when smoking, you get pleasure and start to relax.” The more the smoking history has lasted, the higher doses of nicotine are required to relieve the nerve strain. [3]

According to psychologists, the stress release when taking the subsequent puff occurs not only due to physiological processes in the body. A smoke break can be a short relief during a conflict situation or when thinking about a difficult problem. During this break a smoker “lets off steam” and relaxes emotionally. But this can be accomplished without cigarettes! [3]

  1. The opportunity to socialize

For a shy, introverted person, smoking can become a way to loosen up. Smoking simplifies many communication processes, such as asking a stranger for a cigarette at a party and then making an acquaintance out of him/her, calling a colleague to the smoking-room and then discussing important working moments, or meeting an old friend for a chat.

Perhaps cigarettes help unsocial people to establish contacts. But the effect of “loosening up” will last only as long as the smoking break will. It is important to understand that nicotine will not solve those personal problems that make it difficult for you to socialize with others.

  1. Cigarettes as a ritual

Some smokers experience the real aesthetic pleasure from the smoking process itself – a cup of coffee nearby, a beautiful ashtray and lighter, expensive cigarettes with mouthpieces. Although such individuals may smoke only “on occasion”, it does not prevent the formation of physical and mental dependence.

According to psychologists, the association of tobacco smoking with something artistically attractive and stylish is a dangerous misconception. This is a characteristic of self-insecure individuals who are trying their best to impress others.

The main enemy of quitters is withdrawal syndrome.

When the physical dependence on cigarettes has been fully developed, nicotine is involved in the functioning of the internal organs and systems. The shortage of toxins leads to “malfunctions” in the body which has become accustomed to a constant nicotine intake. That is, a person with a long history of smoking needs nicotine even on a physical level. Without another dose of tobacco the withdrawal syndrome develops. That’s why it’s so hard to give up smoking.

Nicotine withdrawal syndrome is the term which covers a group of symptoms of varying severity, caused by the complete or partial removal of nicotine from the body after its constant use. It is so difficult for the addict to fight against the withdrawal that he/she is easily tempted to once again pick up a cigarette to take another puff. [3]

These are the main signs of withdrawal syndrome that may manifest in a heavy smoker:

  • irresistible desire to smoke;
  • mood swings — apathy, tantrums, anxiety and irritability;
  • insomnia,
  • cough;
  • headache and dizziness;
  • tachycardia;
  • nausea.

The withdrawal syndrome symptoms manifest in different ways and are most severe in the first 2 weeks after quitting smoking. The strength of the signs is dependent upon many factors — the age of the person, the general “history” of smoking, external stimuli and the presence of personal problems. [3]

What happens to the body after quitting smoking?

For smokers with a smoking history of more than 10 years withdrawal syndrome is extremely difficult. However, the positive changes that occur in the body after giving up cigarettes are worth it. You will feel better every day.

What happens after quitting smoking? All the changes are presented in the table. [2]

How much time has passed?
Emotional and physical sensations
Changes in the body
1 day
First signs of withdrawal syndrome appear. If the smoker quits smoking abruptly, they may feel pain in the abdomen and lungs. In some cases, migraine occurs. Despite the unsatisfactory physical condition, the person feels an emotional uplift, since he/she is committed to the decision.
The amount of carbon dioxide in the lungs is significantly reduced, and the amount of oxygen, on the contrary, increases. The process of excretion of accumulated mucus starts in the bronchi.
2 days
Mood swings occur — from unrestrained joy to complete apathy. Smokers may also have stool problems during this period.
Mucous cells in the gastrointestinal tract begin to "renew", causing abdominal pain.
3 days
The cough does not recede, mood swings are still present. Sleep is superficial and restless.
Active cleansing of the lungs from toxins continues. Skin cells begin to be "renewed" which is often manifested by puffiness and dryness. Blood flow to the brain during this period is close to normal.
5 days
By the end of the first week the cough gets worse. Dark sputum comes from the lungs — this contains the decayed products of nicotine and tar, accumulated in the bronchi over many years. Thoughts about cigarettes do not disappear and it is still difficult for the addict to get used to the fact that they are no longer smoking.
The mucosa of the oral cavity is restored, the state of taste buds is normalized.
6 days
Quitters may be disturbed by nausea and heartburn. The emotional state is still unstable — one day they are irritable and angry, then they are excited by the thought that they managed not to smoke for so long.
The pancreas normalization has started, which in some cases provokes heartburn and mild nausea. The problems with stools will gradually clear up. The sputum from the lungs comes out even more actively.
7 days
A person feels empty inside. It seems that he/she has lost something very important with cigarettes. Blood pressure is fluctuating, periodically the heartbeat increases, and there is a possibility of panic attacks.
Nicotine has almost completely left the body. Physical dependence decreases to zero. By the end of the first week of quitting smoking the active recovery of the body, including all internal organs and systems, has begun.
2 weeks
The person is still tormented by ailments — including digestive problems and headaches. By the end of the 14th day of quitting smoking, the signs of withdrawal disappear.
The gastric mucosa is almost completely restored, the production of digestive enzymes is returning to normal. Former smokers experience the taste of food and drinks much better — now even common dishes seem tastier. The complexion is improving. Since serious changes occur in the body after ceasing smoking, the immunity is reduced. A cold may develop in the coming weeks.
1 month
The desire to smoke gradually weakens. However, problems with sleep are still likely. Now it is very important to control your emotions and actions, avoiding temptations that can lead to backsliding, such as parties with alcohol, and smoking groups.
One month after quitting smoking the immune system has normalized. The appearance improves. Grey skin tone disappears and wrinkles smooth.
2 months
The smoking ritual has not fully outlived itself, so periodically a person wants to smoke.
Two months after quitting smoking the skin becomes smoother and more elastic, the blue and yellowish circles under the eyes completely disappear. Fingers are washed free from the yellowness caused by nicotine stains. The brain "gets used" to working without nicotine doping. The toxins accumulated by the body are gradually excreted through the airways, skin, gastrointestinal tract and urinary system
3 months
The third month of quitting smoking is considered a critical one. A person no longer has any physical cravings for nicotine but may want to "smoke at least one cigarette" to relax.
Vascular tone is normalizing. The functioning of the nervous system is restored. This has a positive effect on quality and duration of sleep. Shortness of breath disappears, which may lead to the decision to take up sports.
6 months
The psychological craving for smoking is significantly weakened. A person now rarely remembers about cigarettes, especially if he/she finds an interesting hobby and takes up sports. It feels great, which only motivates the former smoker to make more positive changes in life.
The physical condition is excellent. In six months without cigarettes lung productivity increases by 10%. Coughing and wheezing, if present, are extremely rare.
9 months
This is another critical period after quitting smoking. Despite the long time without cigarettes, some people relapse. A keen desire to smell nicotine smoke hounds them, and pleasant memories of the smoking process beckon them.
No cough. The level of blood pressure is completely normalized. Teeth look much whiter
One year
A year without cigarettes is an impressive achievement for an avid smoker. A person now almost does not remember the addiction and enjoys life. He/she understands how long the journey has been and does not intend to become an addict again.
With the long-term cessation of smoking the risk of developing pathologies associated with the abuse of nicotine reduces by 70-80 %. The likelihood of cancer, stroke, and heart attack is consequently reduced.

Peculiarities of quitting smoking in men and women

The prevalence of smoking in Russia is extremely high.  According to experts, among the adult population of our country more than 60% of men and about 10% of women smoke. At the same time, each sex approaches the process of dealing with addiction in different ways.

For men and women, the risks associated with smoking are common and include cancer, lung and cardiovascular diseases, and early stroke. The harmful consequences of the bad habit cannot be denied, even if you smoke only a couple of cigarettes a day. However, there are also “unique” risks associated with both men and women. For example, men are more likely to have a decrease in sexual function and fertility against a background of regular smoking. Smoking women have increased risks of cardiovascular disease and they may develop bone fragility. [4]

How do men fight the smoking habit?

According to psychologists, cigarettes often have an anti-stress function for men. Many addicts sincerely believe that a cigarette in hand helps them to concentrate and calm down. For some men, smoking becomes proof of their status and self-confidence.

The process of men giving up smoking is complicated by the fact that because of stereotypes imposed by society they recognize their addiction much less often than women. They may perceive this as a personal defeat since the head of the family should not be afraid of diseases and is not obliged to report to anyone.

Even serious diseases often do not become a reason for male patients to quit smoking. It has been estimated that about 40% of addicts with coronary heart disease do not attempt to part with the addiction. [5]

But when a man finally decides to quit smoking, he acts decisively and firmly. While women often prolong this process, gradually reducing the number of cigarettes, affected men attempt to part with the addiction sharply, in one day.

How do women fight the smoking habit?

According to experts, the causes of smoking among women derive from different roots. They are more likely to pick up the cigarette habit because of problems with self-esteem. Smoking helps insecure individuals to identify themselves as “confident and independent.” Others believe the myth that nicotine helps control weight. [1]

Experts say women are more willing to participate in anti-smoking programs. Social stereotypes are also triggered here. A young woman is a prospective mother, so, she must think about her future children first. Nicotine addiction certainly won’t help in the desire to give birth to a healthy baby.

Women are extremely responsible about addiction therapy if they are determined to say no to cigarettes. They usually listen to the advice of loved ones and medical professionals and carefully follow the instructions of specialists. However, women backslide after quitting smoking more often than men. They more acutely perceive their failures and are sensitive to external stimuli, which may lead to a return to the habit. To prevent a smoking recurrence, psychologists advise people to monitor their mental state. [5]

Six recommendations to make it easier to give up smoking

On average, physical dependence completely recedes a month from the last cigarette. After quitting smoking, serious changes occur in the body — internal organs and systems no longer need regular nicotine intake for their normal functioning. But it will take a very long time to fight the psychological addiction, if one does not work to change the usual pattern of behavior.

To minimize the risks of breakdowns and recover faster after giving up smoking, follow the recommendations of psychologists:

  1. Make a list of reasons why you have quit smoking

Motivate yourself with the list of the reasons why you have decided to quit smoking. It can be anything — a pregnancy, taking care of one’s health, the desire to protect loved ones from the consequences of passive smoke or saving money.

Make this list visible so as to not forget about the correctness of the decision in particularly difficult moments.

  1. Avoid temptations

The fewer temptations around, the easier it will be for you to cope with the psychological addiction to cigarettes. Avoid noisy company containing many smokers at least in the first 3 months. Try not to drink alcohol so that you are in control at all times.

  1. Mark your progress in your diary

Keep a diary where you will record the process of giving up cigarettes daily. Listen to your feelings and the changes which occur in your body. This way it will be much easier to keep the situation under control.

Quitting smoking is an achievement to be proud of. Encourage yourself with small gifts for being able to survive without cigarettes for a week, a month, six months, etc.

  1. Find an interesting hobby

Distract yourself from constant thoughts about cigarettes. Find a hobby, take up sports or activities which have long been kept on the back burner. During first months after quitting smoking it is recommended to plan your day meticulously to reduce your free time to the minimum.

  1. Look for like-minded people

If you are serious about defeating the addiction, your loved ones will certainly support you and help you survive the negative consequences of quitting smoking which come in the form of withdrawal syndrome. Don’t be afraid to ask  for help. Find a like-minded person — perhaps a person who also wants to give up smoking. You can be encouraged by a best friend or a colleague from work.

For many it’s useful to run an online blog, where a former smoker can share their successes and secrets of fighting the bad habit with others. This topic will surely be interesting to many people.

  1. Complete the 7Spsy psychological training on behavior modification technique

Psychological addiction to cigarettes in many ways forms an unhealthy behavior pattern. This involves habitual rituals, the desire to relieve stress and relax, and the fears of any changes in life.

The 7Spsy behavior modification technique has proven to be effective in combating bad habits.This is a patented behavior psychology technique based on the theories of I.P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, A.A. Ukhtomsky, and others.

By changing a negative mindset and unhealthy behavior, you will gain faith in yourself. This is half the success in the fight against smoking. With the support of a psychologist, the rejection of nicotine addiction will be painless and, most importantly — with minimal risk of relapsing. You will learn to find better ways to deal with low spirits and self-doubt than putting a cigarette in your hands.

The 7Spsy Behavior Modification Technique training is designed for up to 6 weeks. The remote format of the course will allow you to study with a psychologist at a convenient time without leaving the house. You will receive advice, and answers to your questions by phone and e-mail, as well as in online chatrooms. Working with a psychologist is strictly confidential, which makes it possible to be discreet about the work that you are now conducting on yourself.

Changing the usual behavior pattern is a sure way to say goodbye forever to the harmful addiction of smoking.

Information from this website cannot be used for self-therapy and self-diagnostics. 

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