Quit Smoking Cold Turkey: Long Term Success Or Short Lived Satisfaction?

Quitting cold turkey has the lowest rates of success among those who are looking to quit smoking for good. However, is it a viable method to quit smoking or should people avoid trying it at all?

cold turkey road sign with arrow

There are many smoking cessation methods, but “cold turkey” takes the cake for the worst reputation. Many smokers hesitate to use this method at all since it is known for causing withdrawal symptoms, severe mood swings and intense cravings.

Despite this, most smokers who try to quit go cold turkey at some point. Success rates vary.

What is the Cold Turkey Method?

The cold turkey method, or “quitting cold turkey” as it is more commonly referred, simply means that someone tries to quit smoking using no cessation aids. Cessation aids are medications, devices, or methods to make quitting easier. Those who go cold turkey forgo these methods and try to stop smoking without using any replacement products.

What are the benefits of the cold turkey method:

Overall, healthcare professionals tend to like the cold turkey method. It promotes smokers to quit without replacing the habit with something else. Going cold turkey can also save quitters money, as they will not have to worry about buying nicotine replacement items or cigarettes.

What are the downsides of the cold turkey method:

Despite the apparent benefits regarding health, there are several reasons why quitting cold turkey is not the right option for many smokers.

  • 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 that makes them addictive, and smokers can experience a withdrawal period similar to that experienced by users of any other drug.

Quit Smoking Cold Turkey: Withdrawal Symptoms

According to WebMD, cigarette withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Lowered heart rate and blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Increase in hunger
  • Increased sugar cravings
  • Foggy brain/trouble concentrating
  • Intense tobacco or nicotine cravings
  • Headache
  • Irritability/short temper
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Insomnia

These symptoms will affect some more than others. The degree of which someone may experience symptoms will depend largely on how heavy they smoke before quitting. Those who do not smoke many cigarettes or who have not smoked very long may have a shorter or less intense withdrawal period than long-time and heavy smokers.

Most of these symptoms are not dangerous to one’s health, although if blood pressure or heart rate drops too low, issues might arise. Those who already have blood pressure or heart issues should consult with a physician before trying to quit.

Going Cold Turkey: Make a Plan

Withdrawal is going to happen. There is no getting around that. Symptoms of withdrawal can be managed, in both the short and the long term. Week one is usually the hardest for many smokers since this is when the physical dependence on nicotine is at the forefront. Initial withdrawal can begin in less than an hour after having a cigarette. In order to keep nicotine levels in the blood at what has become a ‘normal’ volume, the first withdrawal symptoms will be cravings for a cigarette. These cravings may seem constant, particularly over the first three days, but after that cravings slowly begin to decline.

Tips for working through cravings:

  • Drink water when cravings begin.
  • Use distraction methods.
  • Remember that cravings are short lived.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly.
  • Use logic to dismiss the demands of the craving.

Other common physical withdrawal symptoms include a headache, dizziness, fatigue, cough, excessive mucus production, and stomach upset. Again, the first week should see the end of these symptoms, and many people find them to be a mild discomfort at worse. Most are symptoms of the body returning to normal and working to reverse the damage done by nicotine.

Most smokers who have tried to quit but failed tend to note that the psychological withdrawal symptoms to be far worse than the physical. Extreme mood swings, anxiety, anger, even depression, are all commonly reported. These emotional roller coasters work alongside the cravings and reinforce the idea that nicotine use is necessary to be ‘normal,’ ‘calm,’ or ‘happy.’ Relapse becomes an easy option when rationalizing that just one cigarette is the only thing necessary to feel good again.

How Effective is Quitting Cold Turkey?

Overall, most people who attempt to quit smoking cold turkey will eventually begin smoking again, although some may at least cut down on their previous tobacco usage. This is in large part due to the withdrawal symptoms previously mentioned; many also start smoking again due to social pressures and triggers. For instance, someone who smokes socially may be more likely to return to smoking after having “just one” while out with friends.

According to the American Cancer Society, it is hard to determine success rates for any given method. On average, those who try to quit smoking are only successful between four and seven percent of the time.

Other Smoking Cessation Aids

Due to the high failure rate for those who try to quit cold turkey, smoking cessation aids have been developed to help smokers quit. These have varying levels of success. Some of the most common types of cessation aids include:

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

This method includes patches, gums, and inhalers which contain nicotine. The theory is that users can eventually wean down from higher levels to lower levels until they no longer feel the need to smoke. Many smokers find these methods unsatisfying.

Prescription Medications

Several prescription medications have been developed to help smokers quit. Wellbutrin is one of the most common, but there are others. Success rates with prescription drugs vary, and not all smokers have access to them. Those who do not have health insurance, for instance, may find that prescription aids are out of reach financially.

The “Weaning” Method

This method goes on the premise that smokers can slowly wean themselves off cigarettes. While this method is similar to nicotine replacement methods, it is much harder to control for those who are addicted to cigarettes. The lure of having “just one more” is often too much to resist.

Conclusion

Choosing the best way to quit smoking is a tough decision for anyone looking to quit. However, moving in the direction of quitting is a good first step. Don’t just jump into going cold turkey, do some research and see if it is the best method for you. Also, finding support is key to success as they can motivate you to keep going. It is a tough road, but if you keep at it, it is possible to beat.

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