What does it feel like to quit smoking?
September 24, 2010 10:46 AM   Subscribe

What does it feel like to quit, or try to quit, smoking?

I have a friend who tries to stop smoking every few weeks. Each time, he tells me how great he feels about quitting and breathing and smelling things, and how much he doesn't miss the cigarettes - but then a day or two later he's smoking again. I asked him once what quitting felt like and what made it so hard. He tried to explain a bit but didn't really get down into it. I don't want to ask him again (especially since he's trying to quit right now) but I'm still very curious about what this experience has been like for other people. Thank you all in advance for helping me understand.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars to Human Relations (54 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I've had intermittent periods of being briefly addicted to cigarettes in the past. When the physical withdrawal starts, the symptoms can be akin to cold or mild flu feelings (without the sore throat and runny nose) -- you feel generally run-down, tired, headachey, hard to concentrate, irritable.

And you know that just one cigarette and a few minutes of your time will make the symptoms go away INSTANTLY. Until next time you decide to quit.
posted by Ouisch at 10:48 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

For me it's like feeling that I'm going to claw my way out of my own skin. My mind obsesses with various rationale for why it's OK to go ahead and have a smoke, cause I can always start quitting again tomorrow.

Believe me - my mind will trick me and as soon as I have that smoke I'll ask myself why the fuck I just did that?
posted by matty at 10:53 AM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

You are going to get as many different answers as people who answer. Only your friend can tell you how it feels for him.

For me, I tried unsuccessfully to quit for a few years, each time saying "after this pack." One day I found myself standing in the rain with cold, smoking and coughing. I looked at the nearly full pack of American Spirits in my hand and crushed them before throwing them away. I never went back (8+ years now). But I don't recall feeling any different. I recall food tasting better, and my apartment and my clothes smelled better, but I have no recollection of having any physical feelings. I had small cravings the time I really quit, but simply recalling how I felt that day in the rain made it easy to get over them.

8 years on I feel it was one of the smartest decisions I have made. Especially since I met my (now) wife a month after I quit. She reminds me she wouldn't have dated me if I was a smoker. So just knowing that is a great feeling.
posted by terrapin at 10:54 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

It felt like being hungry, being thirsty, being naked, forgetting your wallet, cold, aggitated, anxious, having an itch you can't scratch because you don't have hands and/or because you can't really pinpoint its location but goddamn does it itch.
posted by applemeat at 10:54 AM on September 24, 2010 [11 favorites]

Having actually quit smoking on the other hand? That feels wonderful.
posted by applemeat at 10:57 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just quit smoking after nine years, at least four of which were at pack-a-day.

Imagine a dark, bottomless hole in the very center of your chest. All it does is WANT WANT WANT. And you know exactly what it wants. It wants nicotine. And until you give it nicotine it gets bigger and bigger and demands more attention. You get sick. Your throat hurts. You lose your appetite or gain it twice over. And all that will fix it is one, little five minute action that before you quit you thought of as no more important than checking your watch. Well, no, better than checking your watch because it felt really, really good. That's the worst part. That big, black hole wants you to feel GOOD. To feel better again. To cure yourself of these horrible feelings.

..and in the meanwhile you get tics. You start rubbing at yourself. Combing your fingers through your hair ever five seconds. Tapping on the desk. And you annoy yourself with these actions but you can't stop because they're distracting you from that horrible thing inside you that just wants a smoke, that's it man, just a smoke.

You also get real, real moody. What the FUCK does EVERYONE WANT FROM ME? I don't GIVE a SHIT about that report I need to do. I don't FUCKING WANT to go to this party. God DAMMIT why won't EVERYONE LEAVE ME ALONE. Most people don't vocalize it, but that's the response to everything that happens in your head. God forbid something frustrating happens, something you tend to fix with a cigarette. Then it very well may come out. My girlfriend, who smoked more than I did, and I quit at the same time. We gave one another the right to give the other person a "time out." Like a parent would to a child. It's "time out" time and you go over there and you think about how you're behaving because you're not behaving like a proper, respectful human being.

And all that will fix it is just one tiny itty-bitty little cigarette...
posted by griphus at 11:01 AM on September 24, 2010 [11 favorites]

20 minutes after your last one: pretty good, I can do this!

hours after the last one: searching for a replacement, anything to take away this headache.

a day after the last one: nearly overdosing on caffeine

several days later: Terror. Immense panic. It feels as if somebody told you that you could never sleep again. Something essential is being taken away from you. It feels like drowning. And you will do anything to breath again.

months later: I couldn't tell you.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:02 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

This Disney cartoon where Goofy George Geef quits smoking will tell you everything you need to know.
posted by griphus at 11:05 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just quit (again) after smoking a pack a day for 20 years. As you can see from the answers you've gotten already it differs from person to person, but for me, matty and griphus have it. "Crawling out of my own skin" is a phrase I've used, as is "every cell in your body is screaming out and craving a nic fix".

The other thing that I experience, that hasn't been brought up yet, is what the medical literature calls "irritability" and I call "homicidal maniac rage". So yea, it isn't fun, tread lightly.
posted by cestmoi15 at 11:08 AM on September 24, 2010

Wanted to add: I quit smoking once for about a year. During that whole time, even though I was 'over' smoking and had no desire to smoke again, I was often sad about not being a smoker anymore - it was like an old comfortable friend had died.

I was basically in mourning.

And then I joined the Navy... started smoking again the day I got out of boot camp.
posted by matty at 11:12 AM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

It sounds like your question really is "Why can't my friend say he's going to quit smoking and then just quit?" If that is your question, and I fully admit I am reading between the lines, I would ask you to remember that being judged by a non-smoker is the #1 thing that pisses off someone trying to quit.

Smoking is a physical addiction. It took me 8 tries to quit. I used gum, patches, wellbutrin. The first two made me throw up all the time, the last one made me want to throw myself out the window, as did cold turkey (attempted when I was driving cross-country solo, my logic was I wouldn't be able to stop and buy cigarettes).

cestmoi15's statement of "every cell in your body is screaming out and craving a nic fix" strikes a familiar chord. there is also a sense of it being calming and grounding, the fact that it gave me a reason to walk outside and take a 15 minute break from work, the ritual of lighting up. It's all hard to let go of, and the best thing you can do for your friend is congratulate them when it goes well and commiserate when they fall off the wagon.

The average is 7 attempts, so don't think your friend is some kind of loser for falling off the wagon.
posted by micawber at 11:15 AM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

My thing is, I will be at work and I will be doing well and I will think that things are going great, and then something minor will happen - the printer will jam, for example - the one over by the window - and I will want to transform into Ka'taun the Great Betrayer, HE WHO HAS FEASTED ON THE DARK MARROW OF THE UNDERVERSE, and I will go over to the printer and I will suddenly have hugely violent impulses to want to smash it, and also scream at the person who ordered the printer in the first place, and also possibly commit acts of arson.

I seriously become completely unbearable to be around.

So then I skunk back to my desk and nibble on a piece of Nicorette gum and wait for it to pass. The gum is really a wonder. I can take part of a piece and stick it in my gumline like a piece of chewing tobacco or something and soon, soon, I feel the urge to murder recede.

Not disappear, mind you, but it becomes kind of like a faint voice, as opposed to a bullhorn in my ear.
posted by kbanas at 11:22 AM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Like micawber, I thought there might be something between the lines too -- a question like, "Why would someone describe these great effects of quitting smoking and then start smoking again?" For one, the benefits of quitting usually feel like a drop in the bucket compared to the withdrawals, cravings, and out-of-control emotions. I was also incredibly fatigued and mentally sluggish for the first month or so (the day I just plain forgot to order lunch for a company VP, I thought about smoking again just so I could function at work!).

But even if you can stay strong through the general awfulness of that, there are tons of specific situations in a former smoker's life where you suddenly have to learn a new coping mechanism. This happens in negative and positive situations, and the positive ones can be just as much of a struggle. I mean, you would expect someone to have trouble not lighting up a cigarette during a bad day at work or after a fight with a loved one, but what about even something fun, like the first time you go out with your friends or take a road trip and don't smoke? Smoking is so ingrained into a smoker's day-to-day, it's almost like learning a whole new way of approaching life. That's where I eventually got derailed, even though I made it through the first few months like a champ.
posted by spinto at 11:38 AM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

I quit four years ago, on my 30th birthday*. I couldn't sleep for three days. Completely anxious and on edge the entire time. Felt like a significant part of my life was stripped from me.

And as others have mentioned, for some odd reason, right after you quit smoking, your lungs and throat may hurt worse than when you were smoking. In my experience, I went downhill before I came back up. It took a long while (months, maybe?) before I was able to stop coughing and my lungs felt normal again.

And of course, every little thing is an excuse to start back up again. Including, "WTF, I was supposed to feel better by now."

*I always told myself that I'd quit before I was 30. So I did, give or take 24 hours.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 11:41 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I quit two months ago. Because I have chronic allergies and a stuffy nose, I didn't get the benefits like food tasting better or being able to smell wonderful things. I still can't smell worth a shit and food tastes just the same to me. All I got was a wicked bad cough for the first few weeks and an uncontrollable urge to kill *everyone*. Especially those who pointed out how good it was that I was quitting. Fuck you for reminding me of what I've lost.

I didn't quit because it was good for me, I didn't quit because I was afraid of the health risks, I didn't quit because I was tired of coughing and smelling like shit. I quit because I was tired of needing cigarettes. Only after quitting did I discover that it never goes away. I still desperately want a smoke while driving, after eating, when my brain freezes over and I can't make sense of the research problem I'm working on. All of this will never stop. I'll never have a cup of coffee on the porch without missing something. It really is like the loss of a loved one but with the horrible knowledge that one tiny thing, one small action can bring that friend, that comfort right back.

I won't go back to it because I refuse to let a tiny chemical dictate my life. But I'll never stop missing it either.
posted by teleri025 at 11:53 AM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

What applemeat said. To me, it felt like stress — there was this panicky tightness in my chest, like the feeling you get when halfway through your morning at the office you suddenly remember you left the stove on — except it's almost constant. And when something that is actually stressful happens on top of that — which it is almost certain to do, because you're probably screwing up at your job because you're distracted and blowing up at your friends and colleagues because you're an on an emotional hair-trigger1 — and you know that you can calm yourself down in an instant by doing something that — as griphus said — you've done a million times in the past without even thinking about it, and which feels good on top of that, it can be very hard to resist for the days or weeks you've got to do so before you start only feeling that way a couple times a day instead all the time. Also, other people's cigarettes smelled like just about the best thing ever and sent my nerves into frenzied paroxysms of nicotine-yearning for months.

1. I started each of my attempts to quit at the beginning of a four-day weekend or the Christmas holidays, because four full days of quitting was the minimum amount of time I figured I needed before I could go back to work without getting myself fired by losing my temper and going off on someone.
posted by enn at 11:56 AM on September 24, 2010

I'm trying to quit smoking right now.

It makes me feel incredibly antsy. Fidgety, anxious, irritable. My palms sweat. I bounce my legs a lot, tap my feet. I don't know what to do with my hands when I'm outside. And when I'm out at the bar and my friends step outside for a cigarette it feels like I want to crawl out of my own skin. The worst part is knowing exactly what will scratch that itch but you are really. trying. to quit.

It feels a little like when I don't take my ADD medication, honestly.
posted by cosmic osmo at 11:59 AM on September 24, 2010

I'm not going to join in the read-between-the-lines party, but I will say this: the feeling is closest to being behind someone at the grocery checkout, in the 10 items or less line, who has 15 items and is paying with pennies. Imagine carrying that feeling with you all day long.
posted by rhizome at 12:06 PM on September 24, 2010 [27 favorites]

None of these responses strike a chord with me. I think that's because I'd heard so much about the trauma of quitting that I did the best I could to mitigate the symptoms.

I quit using Zyban with no withdrawals whatsoever; trippy nightmares were the only side-effect (a pretty bad one).

Went back to it, and the second and final time I used patches combined with gradual cutting back. So I went from 15 a day to 8 to 3 to occasionally (whenever I got drunk) to never.

It wasn't easy but I can't remember any physical agony or drama. Apparently I'm an anomaly though.
posted by dontjumplarry at 12:18 PM on September 24, 2010

This is all quite accurate. I would also add terror. When I tried to quit, I felt terror that "this cigarette might be my last cigarette." The idea of never having cigarettes again, as a comfort, a crutch, a source of pleasure, was as horrifying to me as death. I would also feel anxious and frightened when considering that someday, I may not even want a cigarette. I tried to quit about six times. There was a massive die-off in my family when I was about 28 or 29 (six or seven years ago) and most of the deaths were smoking related. This frightened me into a much more serious frame of mind. I felt mortal for the first time in my life and finally connected smoking in the present to lung cancer just 20 or 30 short years from now.

I got a prescription for Zyban -- followed the instructions like Gospel and I have stayed "quit" since about 2003. I've probably had three cigarettes since then, all at parties when I've really crossed the border with too much to drink. But I never considered going back to it. Wait. Sorry. I consider it all the time. Just yesterday i was thinking how nice it would feel to buy a pack of Camel Lights...

Even though I've quit, and it's been awhile, the damn things are insidious.
posted by Buffaload at 12:20 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not going to join in the read-between-the-lines party, but I will say this: the feeling is closest to being behind someone at the grocery checkout, in the 10 items or less line, who has 15 items and is paying with pennies. Imagine carrying that feeling with you all day long.

Yep, this is it, right here.
posted by kbanas at 12:33 PM on September 24, 2010

My first try at quiting(I have since started up again) I expected to be agitated and angry and all that, but mostly I was just groggy and confused. I would literally fall asleep at times!

I did have times of intense craving, usually when in public and someone else was smoking. Or even just seeing cigarette butts on the ground, I'd be like 'well that looks delicious!'

Yes it is a physical addiction, but like others above have mentioned it is very much about habit and the psychological connection therein.
posted by abirdinthehand at 1:07 PM on September 24, 2010

For me it was three days of irritability, constantly looking for mints or something to keep my hands and mouth busy, and feeling generally run down, followed by a couple of months of weirdness; learning how to do things without smoking. You don't really think about it, but when you've been smoking for a couple of decades, you sort of fit your life around it, and suddenly you have to walk out of a movie and not light up, or finish working on a complicated problem, and not light up, or be involved in a heated discussion, and not be lighting up.

It's really strange, you find yourself patting your pockets for a pack that hasn't been there in weeks, and it isn't even that you are craving a smoke, you are just used to this-being-what-you-do-now.

Then came the dreams, after a month of not smoking, and feeling really good about yourself, you suddenly have a really vivid dream that you cheated, and you wake up feeling guilty and shitty.

Fortunately, the minimal weirdness and irritability are so worth it for the twin superpowers that are Sense of Smell and Stamina. And if you don't think they sound very super, wait until they are gone for twenty years and suddenly reappear.
posted by quin at 1:10 PM on September 24, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so much everyone! I can't even express how good, helpful and interesting all of your answers have been so far.

Micawber and anyone else who was reading between the lines: I can see how this might seem like just a sneaky way to complain about my friend, but it really isn't. I have the greatest affection for him; I couldn't judge him if he burned down an orphanage. And if I thought he were just a loser, I wouldn't have asked this question. I sincerely want to understand.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:28 PM on September 24, 2010

I stopped and it was a relief. I felt a little dizzy for a week, and weirdly had to learn to eat and drink at regular times. Never a bad pang, I wanted to stop.
posted by ServSci at 1:49 PM on September 24, 2010

The withdrawal symptoms are never a big deal for me. Three days of irritability, and then I go on with life.

But... the rituals! What do I do to celebrate completing a module or a really tough function? How do I cope with shitty traffic? Or really great sex? Or boredom? How do I punctuate my day?

And, well, this is mad personal. But, I sometimes have suicidal ideation. And, so when I'm thinking, "I could just jump under that bus, and that'd be it," I can instead kill myself a tiny bit by smoking a cigarette. A tiny dose of self-destruction to stave off the irreparable dose of self-destruction.
posted by Netzapper at 1:51 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

The hardest part about quitting are breaks. Cigarette breaks not only have a built-in ~5 min. timer, but it's a 5 minute timer with something mindless to do the whole time. When you don't smoke any more, you still need the breaks, except you have nothing to do. So you put your hands in your pocket and lean against a wall. Look at the ground. Look at the people. Look back at the ground because people are looking at you wondering what in the hell you're doing just standing around outside (see, if you had a cigarette, people would understand—you're obviously smoking… when you've quit, you're… suspiciously loitering).

And how long are the breaks? Five minutes? Ten? Two? No timer, you see. So now you're free to do whatever you want!. Except the one thing you really want.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:57 PM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

It feels like your body is filled with poison, running through your veins, throbbing in very cell. Eventually even your fingernails and eyeballs feel poisoned, irritable, raw. With each day that passes, your body becomes a balloon of resentment and crankiness. Putting a cigarette in your mouth and lighting it is like pressing a release valve, letting all your stresses and tensions leave your body in a immediate, blissful, orgasmic rush.

Sorry people quitting smoking right now.
posted by peep at 1:58 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Having experienced both, I'd say it's very much like a bad relationship with a guy, where everyone around you tells you to DTMFA, and you know that is the right thing to do, because he's really bad for you and stinks, and you break up with him...suddenly you feel terrible terrible terrible! (You tell all your friends how great it is to be rid of him, though!), and then you start thinking that he wasn't that bad, he was actually really cute, now that you think about it, he wasn't that smelly, and he made you feel good... So two weeks later, you text him because you think, "one text doesn't mean we're back together again! I'm just being nice!", and he answers and you meet and ooops, you're back together, and everything is back to where it started and it sucks!

I had some headaches when I stopped smoking, but that was really the only physical symptom. Apart from that, it was just psychological pain, which can be worse IMHO. And one thing: Even after not smoking for more than 5 years, I still really really miss smoking from time to time. I stopped missing my stupid ex approximately 1 week after we had broken up for good...so in that respect, smoking is (for some people, at least) even worse than being lovesick, because the addiction sticks with you for the rest of your life and there's nothing you can really do about it.
posted by The Toad at 1:59 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'll probably repeat others here, but: It feels like being hungry all the time. It feels like when you're on your way to work and you realize you've left your phone at home - all the time. It feels like you're always forgetting to do something really important. It feels like everything in the entire universe is doing its level best just to piss you off.

Now that I'm nearly seven years off the smokes, however, I can unequivocally say that it's all worth it.
posted by MShades at 1:59 PM on September 24, 2010

The hardest part about quitting are breaks.

Yeah, this is a really good point; when I smoked, I converted my two 15 minute breaks at work to a bunch of little 5 minute breaks where I would go outside and smoke, after I quit, I never got back in the habit of actually taking those 15 minute breaks again, so now I end up working four hours and then suddenly realizing; 'oh, right... lunch" and then when that's over, it's "oh, right... home".

I'm certainly not suggesting that built in breaks are a good thing about smoking, but I'll concede that they are a convenient thing.
posted by quin at 2:10 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The physical cravings were more intense than I expected, but what really surprised me was the rage--kbanas's description is brilliant. I quit smoking during the week because I thought being at work would distract me and be better than being at home. I had to leave work and go home halfway through the day because I was not fit to be around other humans. I stayed home the next day and through the weekend and was able to be civil again by the next Monday.
posted by Mavri at 2:20 PM on September 24, 2010

I quit at a time when I and everyone around me smoked 1.5-2 packs a day.

I am still not sure why I quit. I just wanted to.

I quit in a natural, gentle and kind way. No promises, willpower or guilt trips.

At first, every time I needed a smoke, I would take a cigarette and smoke, but only draw 2-3 times, and then discard it. The first 1-2 draws are the most pleasurable ones anyway.

Then a week or so later, I would ask myself if I really wanted it. So I would only smoke when I really craved it.

This took my consumption from 30 full cigarettes a day to around 10 3-draw cigarettes per day.

Then I would let them run out before I bought a new pack so I would have to bum them from my peers, which had social implications.

At the same time I craved them less and less, but if I had a strong craving, I would give myself 1-2 draws instead of obsessing about it.

Eventually I just stopped smoking.
posted by andreinla at 2:30 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

It feels like there's always something to attend to and you can't quite settle without it. It's like anxiety, or an unscratchable itch. Sometimes you know that's what it is but often you don't. It effects your brain chemicals and makes you depressed, so you feel sad and irritable about the world, like when you haven't had enough sleep, but with a light dose of despair and homicidal mania.

I smoke a couple of times a year in a particular social circumstance and even though I haven't been a regular smoker for years the neural pathways run deep and it always takes me weeks to recover.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:34 PM on September 24, 2010

Oh, and Gollum? Lord of the Rings? Like that.

Oh my precious.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:36 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had a metallic feeling in my jaw combined with the sensation of my lungs trying to beat through my chest. Otherwise it felt awesome and I was very grateful to walk away from that trap.
posted by fantasticninety at 3:02 PM on September 24, 2010

Response by poster: Andreinla's answer makes me wonder: Has it been very hard for anyone here to just cut down? (My friend says that's worse.)
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 3:14 PM on September 24, 2010

Has it been very hard for anyone here to just cut down? (My friend says that's worse.)

When I quit, I did so using the Allen Carr Easy Way method, which tells you not to cut down or restrict your smoking while you are reading the book (prior to quitting) because all you are doing is prolonging your withdrawal symptoms (nicotine craving/ nic-fit) over a longer period of time. The side effect of this is that you are unconsciously making each cigarette more 'precious' and thus, more valuable/ desirable.

His entire system is predicated on showing you that the withdrawal symptoms aren't that big a deal, and quitting isn't something to be afraid of. Basically, it devalues the cigarette itself and shows you that not having one isn't any big deal.

So, using that method, cutting down actually makes things worse.

But it's different for different people. His way worked for me, so it's the one I subscribe to, others may have another point of view.
posted by quin at 3:32 PM on September 24, 2010

I found quitting absolutely impossible, until I genuinely didn't want to smoke any more. I was diagnosed with a chronic lung disease, and told by my doctor that I had to quit, and still didn't make it past about three months.

All the pressure applied to me by my family and friends only made me less likely to quit. Any time I planned to quit, I failed. Your friend sounds like he's planning to quit, which is a method destined to fail, in my opinion.

The only time you can truly, permanently quit, is when you pull the packet out of your pocket, look at the cigarettes inside and think "I don't want one of them".
posted by autocol at 7:56 PM on September 24, 2010

I quit cold turkey about six months ago after my aunt died from lymphoma. Before that, the longest I've quit smoking was almost a year, and then when I broke up with the boyfriend I was with at the time, I started right back up again.

The only thing that is keeping me from having a cigarette right now is the cost (I live in NYC) and the fact that I am doing this through sheer willpower alone. It would be a shame to ruin that, wouldn't it?

Even so, I crave cigarettes, but I'm too stubborn to have one. Until the day that I know I'll need it (parental death, other really traumatic experience). Then I'll probably have a pack or two, then stop again.

As you can see, I really haven't quit smoking yet.
posted by TrishaLynn at 8:27 PM on September 24, 2010

I've quit smoking 6 years ago.
What helped me the most were my unsuccesful attempts to quit smoking.
I knew that in certain situations I was going to be weak, or under great stress, and I will have a strong desire to reach for a cigarette. If you know in advance what these situations are, and if you know how will you react to them, then you have an opportunity to offer yourself a different scenario.
Also, the thing that helped a lot was a realisation that this is probably a lifelong battle. I consider myself a smoker although I haven't touched a cigarette for 6 years. The desire is still here - but it only lasts for a fraction of a second.
posted by leigh1 at 8:43 PM on September 24, 2010

Great thread, but discouraging: I've been thinking of quitting and halfway down the page, I had to have a cigarette. It's almost as bad as watching Mad Men...
posted by sfkiddo at 8:58 PM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm with you, sfkiddo. I hate smoking. I need to quit. I'm older and I want to continue getting older. But, if I don't quit soon, I won't last much longer. Both of my smoker parents died of cancer at the ages of 69 and 73, relatively young in this day and age. Everytime I try, it's as described above. I want to jump out of my skin. Everyone and everything irritates me. I feel like I have the flu. I just want to lay down and wrap the comforter around me. If I get in the car, I smoke. If I get on the phone, I smoke. After I eat, I smoke. If something upsets me, I smoke. I'm bored, I smoke. Addictions are brutal.
posted by wv kay in ga at 12:06 AM on September 25, 2010

I got mean. Just an utter, weird personality change in the space of one day. I am generally pretty happy-go-lucky, don't really get annoyed with people who drive slow, etc. Suddenly (and I do mean suddenly - this took about 8 hours) I wanted to drag the slow drivers out of their cars and stomp them to death. I then got to work and almost cried with rage at the sheer stupidity of - everyone. I never felt physically sick - just horribly, mentally mean and awful.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 1:48 AM on September 25, 2010

I need to quit. I'm older and I want to continue getting older. But, if I don't quit soon, I won't last much longer. Both of my smoker parents died of cancer at the ages of 69 and 73, relatively young in this day and age. Everytime I try, it's as described above. I want to jump out of my skin. Everyone and everything irritates me.

The thing that I think helped me is understanding that while it's horrible to quit, it doesn't last forever. For me, trying helped. It was like doing rough drafts. Knowing what's coming, knowing what you're going to feel, and making plans to deal with it (pint of ice cream, full day of movie watching, running, etc.) helped.

It's way better than being surprised by those feelings, because then you think they're reasonable ways to feel and if you think it's reasonable, you're more likely to have a cigarette to deal with it, because hey, who can blame you?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:04 AM on September 25, 2010

Has it been very hard for anyone here to just cut down? (My friend says that's worse.)

I'd agree with your friend. Every time I tried to quit by cutting down a little at a time, I definitely struggled with feelings very much like what rhizome describes. For me, this is because I wasn't actually quitting. I was just setting myself up for repetitive thought torture: "Is it time yet? Can I have one now? Have I waited long enough? Oh my God, now! How about now?!" It became all about managing the deprivation and not about tapering off to nothing.

Once I acknowledged that I was quitting, I took my lighter, my ashtray and a half a pack of cigarettes, drove them to a public trash container and threw everything away. It was a final goodbye and not a "let's still be friends" drawn-out melodrama. After that I certainly craved cigarettes, and there were plenty of times when I reached into my pocketbook and they weren't there. Ditching all of the items that made me a smoker helped me to change my thinking. That was about 20 years ago, so I can confirm that quitting cold turkey worked for me. Based on the experiences of friends and family, I know it doesn't work for everyone. If there was one true path, the tobacco companies would be out of business.
posted by contrariwise at 6:13 AM on September 25, 2010

Has it been very hard for anyone here to just cut down?

I've tried "cutting down." Everyone is always "cutting down." The problem is there's no real delineation between success and failure when you're cutting back. You wait half-an-hour to have a cigarette and congratulate yourself as a paradigm for self-control. Or you wait a whole hour after dinner, or you put off that morning cigarette… so what? The whole time the thought of your next cigarette consumes you; and it's not like one less cigarette is going to make any real difference to your long-term outlook. So why bother going through the flagellation if there's no real gain to be had. Just smoke. Or don't.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:05 AM on September 25, 2010

I quit a while back. You do feel physically better, cleaner right away, but for me anyway smoking is so much about habits and emotional/social/daily ritual comfort patterns. You sort of know if you smoke that cigarette after a tasty dinner it won't live up to the anticipation, you know it will be kind of gross, you know this logically and clearly but there's this well worn path in the dirt of your mind, that when you eat a big satisfying meal or drink a cocktail you then smoke. I'm trying to think of anything similarly strong conditioning-wise...maybe a bit like your toilet habits. If you've always been ingrained to wash your hands after peeing, it's robotic and you'd feel kind of weird or off if you didn't, you know? That's not exactly it, but the closest I can think of.

One thing I noticed, and I know this varies a ton by person, is once you know you've really quit for good--it's been months and months--there'll still be a lull period where you'd openly admit that damn, you love smoking and you miss it mentally a lot if not physically. But then, and this took me more than a year, you reach a point where everything about smoking starts to seem gross, you don't even have the wistful memories. If you go to a smoky bar the smell actually repels you, a lot, even more than for a normal person. A friend who'd quit a zillion years ago mentioned this to me while I was still a smoker a couple times and then later when I quit I didn't know what he was talking about at all for the first year, figured it was more just sort of purposeful thinking to condition him to not miss it or want it, a sort of sour grapes thing. But no. I finally know what he's talking about--now the smell of smoke on my clothes a day after a concert makes me gag.
posted by ifjuly at 8:42 AM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

> Wanted to add: I quit smoking once for about a year. During that whole time, even though I was 'over' smoking and had no desire to smoke again, I was often sad about not being a smoker anymore - it was like an old comfortable friend had died.

I was basically in mourning.

And then I joined the Navy... started smoking again the day I got out of boot camp

Yeah, this, exactly. So much of smoking in the limbo period of quitting when you're not physically addicted anymore but you haven't gotten used to identifying as a total nonsmoker is weird, where it's wrapped up in little bundles of organized time in the day, what you look forward to, rituals and socialization, time you set aside just to contemplate things, etc. It takes a really long time to let all of that go. There was a definite mourning period for me to, of exactly this, the idea I would never be a smoker again or smile knowingly at the rituals (a great beer + cig, Dunhills in Europe, cloves late at night while working, blah blah). That was much harder for me than the physical stuff. So hard the only solution I decided to try, and it worked, was to cut out anything I possibly could that was bundled in that nexus of identification. This meant quitting coffee for a while or socializing with certain people or going to shows, for god's sake. It didn't last forever obviously but I'm pretty sure I would have fallen off the horse enough to maybe fail at quitting entirely if I hadn't done that.
posted by ifjuly at 8:48 AM on September 25, 2010

Just keep in mind you will never stop being addicted to nicotine but you can stop smoking it.
posted by fuq at 9:41 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm finding this thread fascinating because I am a smoker who has no plans to quit!
posted by sdn at 6:52 PM on September 25, 2010

I started to quit two weeks ago, down from 1-3 packs a week to straight cold turkey. This has been surprisingly easy this time round (attempt number three for me). The best possible thing I have done is recognise my triggers and see them for what they are.

For instance, I don't consider myself addicted to nicotine as I can go days for a time without the need to smoke. But I do find myself wanting cigarettes in public or social situations, as a crutch. So I sometimes smoke to avoid awkwardness. I recognise this, and my solution is to recognise that smoking is going to give me something to do for five minutes, but then I will be right back in the same boat. So it isn't a solution. It is a non-solution with added cancer, which for me makes it less appealing.

Or else I often smoke because I don't like the noise in clubs and want to escape. I am also better able to hear people if we are outside. My solution is to just go outside for five minutes every half hour or so and just chat to people, or just stand there alone decompressing. You don't need a cigarette in your hand for it.

One thing I have noticed is that I have felt a swollen and sore throat with a tinge of gunkiness ever since I quit. Others have described this as one of the consequences of trying to quit. What the hell? Any answers as to why this happens? When might it disappear?
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 7:41 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you ever done something 20 times a day (more or less) for so many years that it's just second nature? Think about it. Is there anything? Maybe you're one of those people that's always on time and you look at a clock 20 times a day. Now, one day you decide that you're never going to look at a clock again because looking at clocks gives you cancer. "You've got to be fucking kidding me," you think. "There are clocks everywhere! There's so many chances for me to mess this up!" That's what it's like. You know you could go looking at a clock, but you made a promise to yourself to quit looking at clocks.

Oh, and not only have you been mentally conditioned to check the clock when you want to know the time but you're also physically addicted to looking at clocks. There's a physical urge that gets louder and louder if you don't look at a clock every so often. Just an added bonus, lucky you! Now, try not to lose your shit.

Today is my 20th consecutive day without a cigarette. I'm still hating my life but look forward to better days.
posted by smeater44 at 12:34 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

6 months without a cigarette today!
posted by TrishaLynn at 7:28 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

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