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Learning to manage withdrawals, cravings and triggers

Withdrawals—what to expect

Nicotine is the addictive chemical in tobacco products. Withdrawal symptoms are the ways in which your body reacts when it stops getting nicotine and all the other chemicals in tobacco smoke. These are temporary physical and emotional changes.

Everyone is different, but withdrawal symptoms can start a few hours after your last cigarette. They are usually strongest in the first week, reducing over time and are usually gone after about two to four weeks.

Think of withdrawals as positive signs that your body is recovering from smoking.

Some common recovery symptoms are:


Less common nicotine withdrawal symptoms:

  • cold symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and sneezing
  • constipation, diarrhoea, stomach aches or nausea
  • dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • mouth ulcers

Less common nicotine withdrawal symptoms:

  • cold symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and sneezing
  • constipation, diarrhoea, stomach aches or nausea
  • dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • mouth ulcers

Symptoms can be reduced with the use of nicotine replacement therapy. Distraction can also assist in managing many withdrawal symptoms. For ways to cope with specific withdrawal symptoms, speak to a Quitline counsellor on 13 7848.

 Managing triggers and cravings

“I quit until that first cup of coffee in the morning”

“I don’t smoke unless I go out with friends and have a drink”

“When I get stressed, I desperately want a cigarette”

Does this sound like you?

Most people who smoke regularly have triggers for their smoking. For some, it’s having a cup of coffee. For others, it could be driving home from work, feeling stressed or anxious, going to a party, or all of the above.

What may follow is a craving—an intense urge to smoke. Although these cravings usually only last a few minutes, they can make quitting tobacco quite challenging. The good news is that they will lessen over time. So especially in those first days and weeks, it’s important to know your triggers and come up with a plan to deal with them.

Think about when you smoke…what else is going on for you at that time?

Here are a couple of tips to help you break the link between common triggers and tobacco.

Emotional triggers

Do you find yourself smoking in any of these situations?

  • when you’re stressed or tense
  • when you’re bored
  • when you need to think or be creative
  • when you’re angry or need time out
  • when you’re lonely
  • when you feel bad
  • when you feel happy or excited

Some smokers use smoking to change the way they feel. You may have spent most of your life dealing with situations by smoking. So when you quit, you’ll be learning new ways of coping. This can be very hard for some people, and you may find you need extra help to learn new ways of relaxing, and coping with anger or stressful situations.


  • Take slow, deep breaths—it’s a great way to manage stress and anxiety.
  • It releases endorphins which are feel good chemicals in your brain.
  • Talk about it—tell someone you trust how you are feeling.
  • Talk to your GP for professional help.

Behavioural triggers

Do you have a cigarette at any of these times?

  • when you drink coffee
  • when you’re on the phone
  • when you’re having a beer
  • after you’ve finished a meal
  • when you’re having a break
  • when you’re watching television
  • when you are driving
  • when you’re out socialising or celebrating
  • as a reward for other behaviours
  • after sex

Over the time that you have been smoking, these links may have become stronger and stronger. You might find yourself reaching for a cigarette without even thinking whenever these things happen.

When you quit, it can help to be very aware of these links to your smoking. This is when you may miss your cigarettes. To get through it, you might need to change your routine so there aren’t any triggers to light up.


  • Change your routine, like drinking coffee at a different time or brushing your teeth straight after you eat.
  • Find a replacement, such as a sugar free gum, mints or a straw.
  • At first, avoid places where people smoke.
  • Ask friends and family not to smoke around you.
  • When you’re driving, have a bottle of water handy so you can drink water.


What can you do to deal with cravings and triggers?

  • All smokers have their own smoking habits. Knowing what makes you want to smoke can help you plan how to cope in trigger situations.
  • Some people find keeping a record of when they smoke over a few days can help work out their main smoking triggers.
  • Use positive self-talk. Tell yourself, “I can quit”, “I don’t need cigarettes” or “I can find better ways to cope”.
  • Remind yourself of your main reasons for quitting. Carry something with you that will help you stay motivated, such as a note or picture. Think of things you want to do as a non-smoker.
  • Break your smoking thought patterns. Stop thoughts that lead you to want to smoke and change them to something else.
  • Think of the benefits of quitting and the positive changes in your life since you stopped.
  • Focus your mind on something else. Try distraction, meditation, or thinking of images.