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To quit smoking: how long is the road ahead?

26.09.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

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 article we will discuss an important question: what prevents a person from giving up the bad habit forever? How shall the quitters act to go through with this decision and not backslide?


Why does nicotine addiction occur?

quit smoking

Many people, taking their first cigarette, are convinced that this “dalliance” will never escalate into addiction in their 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 — one cigarette will be followed by a second and a third one, and then you will buy a new pack. Time will pass, and gradually you will understand that quitting smoking is not such an easy task.

As a rule, for the first time a cigarette is smoked in 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 tobacco dependence increases many times. In order not to feel like an outsider, he/she also begins to smoke. The insecure individuals who aspire to be “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. Trying to prove to everyone around that he/she is already an adult, the child starts smoking. It is a result of all-or-nothing thinking peculiar to youths.
  3. Influencer’s example. The probability of developing a bad habit increases if a person had been watching people he/she respected and loved smoking since childhood. While an adult could 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 just want to look mature and important, like their parents or older friends.

Many people, starting to smoke in adolescence, do not part with the addiction for many years even in adulthood, poisoning themselves with nicotine 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 hormonal release ends, the next cigarette is needed. A kind of reflex is gradually formed in a person: “when smoking, you get pleasure and relax.” The more smoking history lasts, the higher doses of nicotine are required to relieve nerve strain. [3]

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

For a shy, introverted person, smoking becomes 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, calling a colleague in the smoking-room and then discussing important working moments, or meeting an old friend and chatting with him.

Perhaps cigarettes help unsocial people to establish contacts. But the effect of “loosening up” will last only as long as the smoke break will. It is important to understand that nicotine will not solve personal problems that make it difficult for you to socialize with others.
  1. Cigarette 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 personalities, as a rule, 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 characteristic of self-insecure individuals who are trying their best to impress others.

The main enemy of quitters is withdrawal syndrome.

how to quit smoking quit smoking

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

Nicotine withdrawal syndrome is a group of symptoms of varying severity caused by the complete or partial removal of nicotine from the body after constant use of it. It is so difficult for the addict to fight against the withdrawal that he/she once again picks up a cigarette to take another whiff. [3]

The main signs of a 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 differently and are most severe in the first 2 weeks after quitting smoking. The strength of the signs is dependent on 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 smoking history of more than 10 years withdrawal syndrome is extremely difficult. However, the positive changes that occur in the body when 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 sensationsChanges in the body
1 dayFirst signs of withdrawal syndrome appear. If smoker quits smoking abruptly, they may feel pain in 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 daysMood swings occur — from unrestrained joy to complete apathy. Smokers may have problems with their stool during this periodMucous cells in the gastrointestinal tract begin to “renew” causing abdominal pain.
3 daysThe cough does not recede, mood swings are still present. The 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 daysBy the end of the first week the cough gets worse. Dark sputum comes out of the lungs — these are the decay products of nicotine and tar, accumulated in the bronchi over many years. Thoughts about cigarettes do not disappear, 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 daysQuitters may be disturbed by nausea and heartburn. Emotional state is still unstable — one day they are irritable and angry, next day they are excited by the thought that they managed not to smoke for so long.The pancreas normalization is started, which in some cases provokes heartburn and mild nausea. However, the problems with stool are gradually clear up. The sputum from the lungs comes out even more actively.
7 daysA person feels empty inside. It seems to him that he lost something very important with cigarettes. Blood pressure is fluctuating, periodically the heart beat increases, and there is 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, begins.
2 weeksPerson is still tormented by ailments — 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 smoker feels the taste of food and drinks much better — now even usual dishes seem tastier. The complexion is improving.
Since serious changes occur in the body after quitting smoking, the immunity is reduced. A cold may develop in the coming weeks.
1 monthThe desire to smoke gradually weakens. However, problems with sleep are still probable. Now it is very important to control your emotions and actions, avoiding temptations that can lead to backsliding — parties with alcohol, and smoking companies.One month after quitting smoking the immune system is normalized. The appearance improves. Grey skin tone disappears and wrinkles smooth.
2 monthsThe 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 yellowness caused by nicotine that had settled on them. 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 monthsThe 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; it 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 monthsThe psychological craving for smoking is significantly weakened. A person now rarely remembers about cigarettes, especially if he finds an interesting hobby and takes up sports. It feels great, which only motivates 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 monthsThis is another critical period when quitting smoking. Despite the long time without cigarettes, some people give up. 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 yearA year without cigarettes is an impressive period for an avid smoker. A person now almost does not remember the addiction, enjoying 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 reduced.

Peculiarities of quitting smoking in men and women

to give up smoking

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, they approach 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 harm of the bad habit cannot be denied, even if you smoke only a couple of cigarettes a day. However, there are also “unique” risks for men and women. For example, men are more likely than women to have a decrease in sexual function and fertility against the background of regular smoking. Smoking women have increased risks of cardiovascular disease and may develop bone fragility. [4]

How do men fight smoking habit?

According to psychologists, for adult men cigarettes often have an anti-stress function. 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.

Men’s quitting smoking is complicated by the fact that because of the stereotypes imposed by society they recognize their addiction much less often than women. They 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 established that about 40% of addicts with coronary heart disease do not attempt to part with the addiction. [5]

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

How do women fight smoking habit?

According to experts, the causes of smoking among women have other roots. They are more likely to pick up cigarettes because of problems with self-esteem. Smoking helps insecure individuals to identify themselves as “confident and independent.” Others believe in 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. She is a prospective mother, so, she must think about her future children first. Nicotine addiction certainly won’t help 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 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 leads to a return to addiction. To prevent a smoking recurrence psychologists advise addicts to monitor their mental state. [5]

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6 recommendations to make it easier to quit smoking

after quitting smoking

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

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

  1. Make a list of reasons why you quit smoking

Motivate yourself with the list of the reasons why you want 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 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 companies with many smokers at least in the first 3 months. Try not to drink alcohol so that you can control yourself 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 that 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, do sports or what has long been kept on the back burner. During first months after quitting smoking it is recommended to plan your day in order 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 all the negative consequences of quitting smoking in the form of withdrawal syndrome. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Find a like-minded person — a person who also wants to quit smoking. It can be a best friend or a colleague from work.

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

  1. Complete 7Spsy psychological training on behavior modification technique

Psychological addiction to cigarettes in many ways forms an unhealthy behavior pattern — habitual rituals, the desire to relieve stress and relax and 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 the negative mindset and unhealthy behaviors, you will gain faith in yourself. That’s 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 giving up. You will learn to find better ways to deal with bad spirits and self-doubt than a cigarette in your hands.

The 7Spsy Behavior Modification Technique training is designed for up to 6 weeks. Remote format of the course will allow you to study with a psychologist at a convenient time without leaving the house. You get 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 not to tell anyone about the work that you are now conducting on yourself.

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


  1. «Demograficheskij ezhegodnik Rossii. Statisticheskij sbornik», 2001 g., G. K. Oksenoyt.
  2. «Brosit’ kurit’ navsegda. Samye effektivnye metody lecheniya tabachnoj zavisimosti», 2015 g., R. Isaev.
  3. «Sindrom zavisimosti ot tabaka, sindrom otmeny tabaka u vzroslyh: klinicheskie rekomendacii», 2018 g., Ministerstvo zdravoohraneniya Rossijskoj Federacii. (http://gbuzrkkrnd.ru/f/000897.pdf).
  4. «Tabakokurenie — vrednaya privychka ili trudnoizlechimaya bolezn’» (zhurnal «Rossijskie apteki», 2004 g., №10), I. Shirokova.
  5. «Lekarstvennye preparaty i kurenie» (zhurnal «Racional’naya Farmakoterapiya v Kardiologii», 2005 g., №1), YU. V. Lukina (https://cyberleninka.ru/article/v/lekarstvennye-preparaty-i-kurenie).