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How to Quit Smoking Cold Turkey

Quit Smoking Cold Turkey
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Quitting smoking cold turkey means stopping smoking – but it could also mean drinking, drug-taking – immediately, without any preparation, and without the use of any quit-smoking aids like patches, gum or medication. It is one of the oldest, if not the first, smoking cessation method.

For smokers, going cold turkey means smoking one day and not smoking the next. Some succeed. Others do not. Now that there are NRTs and pills to help with withdrawals and cravings unassisted cessation is not as popular. Only many people still try with varying results.

Table of contents:

Cold Turkey Explained
Does Going Cold Turkey Work?
Choosing What Works Best

Cold Turkey Explained

Going “cold turkey” sounds very easy: a person stops doing something they do not want to anymore. It does not involve seeing a doctor, signing up for NRT, or have any negative health effects.

But in the context of giving up something as addictive as nicotine, this method is not as easy as it sounds. Stopping smoking all at once requires willpower, which is the enemy of addiction.

Quitting nicotine, or any drug for that matter is difficult because of withdrawal. When the body stops receiving nicotine from cigarettes, smokers experience withdrawal symptoms like:

  • Nicotine cravings
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Weight gain

The frequency and intensity of these symptoms are what cause most quit attempts to fail. Without the use of nicotine replacement aids like patches or gum, there is not much help for smokers who take the total abstinence route.
One of the main issues with quitting cold turkey is that cutting off all access to nicotine at once can lead to intense withdrawal symptoms. Nicotine is the substance found in tobacco products, like vape juices and e-liquids that makes them addictive, and smokers can experience a withdrawal period similar to that experienced by users of any other drug.
Smokers should have at least some kind of plan for any sudden quit attempt.

Anyone thinking about making an abrupt-stop as opposed to a gradual-stop (weaning off method), or using NRTs to quit, should:

  • Know what kind of smoker they are: Someone who is a light, or intermittent smoker (anyone who smokes less than 10 cigarettes/day or who is a “social” smoker) may benefit more from cutting off smoking entirely than someone who is a heavy smoker, and may experience harder-to-control withdrawal symptoms if they stop all of a sudden.
  • Make a personalized quit plan: Having a plan in place can make it easier to deal with sudden cravings, instead of having to waste time thinking about the best ways to deal with withdrawal.
  • Write down all the benefits of quitting: Have this list ready whenever cravings start. The good thing about nicotine urges is that they do not last long, maybe ten to fifteen minutes and do not impact overall health. In that time, read over all the good things about not smoking: better health, improved physical activity, saving money, etc.
  • Use friends and loved ones: Quitting smoking can be a lonely fight for a smoker. Being surrounded by a support system that listens and can help stop relapses, or prevent a smoker from giving in to their urges.

Does Going Cold Turkey Work?

There is evidence to show quitting nicotine abruptly is useful, and there are studies that say it is not, or at least anywhere between 5-10% effective. It is not impossible to quit smoking cold turkey, but it may be harder, as the evidence suggests.

There is even debate as to the definition of the term. The above study out of Oxford University that demonstrated the worth of quitting cold turkey was controversial for a few reasons:

  1. Researchers divided smokers into two groups – an abrupt-cessation group and a gradual-cessation group – however, “both groups received behavioral support from nurses and used nicotine replacement before and after quit day.”
  2. The fact that even the “abrupt-cessation group” received nicotine patches, and counseling, flies in the face of the traditional understanding of what abrupt-cessation means.
  3. The most accepted meaning, according to Dr. J. Taylor Hays, the head of the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo Clinic, of stopping right away is “to quit abruptly with no treatment support or replacement medications.

Even though the media touted the study as proof that abrupt cessation works, there was a catch. The catch was that smokers did receive some assistance in quitting, unlike, in the past when quitting with willpower alone meant using no help at all.

Choosing What Works Best

Quitting tobacco without any help has become an outlier among the other ways to quit smoking. It does not have any negative health effects, but it may not be so effective. In a comparative study looking at the most effective quitting methods, “willpower” scored as low as e-cigarettes and non-nicotine drugs in overall effectiveness.

The same study found that a combination of nicotine replacement therapy, the prescription medication Champix, and counseling was the method most likely to help people quit. Even though the Oxford study’s findings were called into question, one thing it did discover was that people who opted to quit gradually, instead of stopping right away, were less likely to succeed in remaining abstinent.

So maybe willpower alone does have a role to play in helping people stay off cigarettes. The truth is though that many people have stopped smoking cold turkey. Quitting smoking is a challenge in itself. Stopping without any help or treatment is even more of a challenge. It is hard, but not impossible.

After Content Chirs story
Published: January 28, 2015 Updated: April 5, 2019



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27 comments on “How to Quit Smoking Cold Turkey
  • Anne Mekeel
    July 4, 2019 at 11:59 am

    I had a milld strokeonJune 17th. I stopped smoking a week ago, cold turkey. My mental state is not very good. Not surre from stroke or not smoking

  • Lakisha
    September 16, 2018 at 4:35 pm

    i quit 3 weeks ago i broke the amount i smoked down to 1 cigarette every other day the month prior to Cold Turkey and im doing great cant stand the smell of cigarettes now and my taste and smell have improved. I think its harder when inside you dont really want to quit because then its like a job. Some people just enjoy smoking. as for me quitting was the best i feel better! Good Luck out there with your Journey to a smoke free life-!!

  • Mark
    September 1, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    Coming up 6 months now since quitting cold turkey. It becomes a lot easier not to smoke if you dig in and get through the initial cravings and get a couple of weeks under your belt.

  • Esther Thompson
    July 21, 2018 at 11:58 am

    I quit cold turkey back in 2007 after 2 years at a pack a day. Picked the habit back up about 3 years ago. Cold turkey isn’t working This time. So, I put my smoke in my garage. I live in an apartment so it’s an effort to get to them. I set a limit of a minimum of 3 hours between smokes, but pushed it as far as I could. Today is my last day. I’m leaving for a 4 day camping trip tomorrow and won’t be taking any with me.

  • Donna H
    July 8, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    Took Chantal was down to 2 cig day but after maybe 2 months I. Didn’t want to leave my house, got like paranoid. So I stopped taking it. Then started 21mg patches worked better if I took it at night. Found out I have lung cancer. Now trying myself down from pack a day to 5-6 day have to have surgery so will totally stop before surgery for sure!

    June 9, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    Ii am in day 6 of cold turkry. I have no physical hurts but my jaws are very watery. I think that is my body trying to get the nictione out of my mouth. This is not easy but as long as I have no physical pain I should be able to do it. I promise if I fail I will let you Know.

    • angela
      March 25, 2019 at 12:46 am

      my second day I just said just for today I wont smoke

  • Kaye
    June 4, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    Just completed my 1st week! I am doing so well. I used to smoke 15-20 sticks a day. My cravings were not as bad as I expected.

    Cold turkey works for me and I think it is the best way for someone who is really willing to quit.

  • Chanell
    June 4, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Help need to stop smoking but how

  • Albert
    June 3, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    Week two almost done. Still having the dizziness like I am in a Elevator. Is that normal? I am doing good So far.

    • Gene
      July 23, 2018 at 11:11 pm

      Did your dizziness go away?

  • New living
    June 1, 2018 at 11:25 pm

    24 hours cold turkey. Not feeling like myself,. Body feeling kind of strange slight headaches but thanks to this website I understand now that my body is just going to do crazy things I will hang in there and Conquer this nicotine addiction cold turkey

  • Albert Moriis
    May 24, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    Been smoking for 41yrs. I finally quit on 05/23/18. Doing the cold turkey.

    • P
      June 5, 2018 at 10:51 am

      How is it going now?

    • Linda P Ruiz
      July 18, 2018 at 7:34 am

      I’ve smoked for 30 years..quit cold Turkey saturday… it’s been a rough 5 days…but mind over mattee

      • angela
        March 25, 2019 at 12:49 am

        god bless you. I will keep you in my prayers

    • erik delgadillo
      July 31, 2018 at 5:56 pm

      how is it going

  • Brenda
    April 30, 2018 at 12:48 am

    April 29, 2018

    I quit cold turkey 2 months ago after a bout with the flu. I have smoked for 57 years 2 packs a day. I have the depression and very irritable and a cough in the middle of the nigh and I also crave sweets. I do crave a smoke but I fight the feeling and go on with something else. It just takes will power and perseverance. I know the side effects will subside. I desperately want to remain smoke free and pray I make it one day at a time. Good luck to all who are trying to quit.

  • Michelle Bailey
    February 20, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    Where’s the data of “most people who attempt to quit smoking cold turkey will eventually begin smoking again,”? There is much data out stating contrary with a basic google search. Sounds like there’s an agenda here.

  • P'd off
    February 20, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    I read Allen Carr’s Easy Way book and it was fantastic. The first week WAS easy. However, 10 days in, I am extremely irritable and have a such bad headaches I am beginning to wonder about my health.

  • Jubileez
    November 23, 2017 at 7:26 pm

    Great insight on what to expect and how to deal with the unexpected during the “quit smoking” journey.
    Thanks for the practical and refresher tips.

  • Daryl Carlson
    November 11, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    I think cold turkey is the best way!! Mind over matter

  • Cathy Sousa
    November 10, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    I agree. Though it is not a miracle cure, it is the Best thing out there to quit the craziness and psychological brainwashing of nicotine addiction.
    Do yourself a huge favor, but the book. I have been 2 weeks not smoking now, I pick up and read the book 2-3 times a day, really helps!

  • Juanita C Williams
    October 23, 2017 at 11:34 pm

    It have been 24hours for me and I have high bloodpersser I just need some help I want to stop for good how can this happen I need help

  • Lauren
    October 20, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    I’ve heard of the Allen Carr method, but it was hard for me to quit cold turkey. Headaches, shaking- you name it. I started by slowly switching to nicotine pouches while I was at the office, and using one of the lower levels with a cigarette on a smoke break. I prefer the on! pouches because I stick to the lower ones, and hubby prefers the 8mg since he’s a dipper.

  • marc
    July 9, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    A fast and simple way to stop smoking, I quit smoking in a day, if you want to stop as well than read this:

    • James Duguid
      October 16, 2017 at 3:41 pm

      Allen Carr’s “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking” is the most logical, effective, realistic thesis on quitting smoking, period. I didn’t find it to be THAT easy, but the certainly most effective I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been a pack a day plus smoker for 45 years. Only on day 7, but really feel I will never have another cigarette again. Will post back in a month or so.