What Happens When You Quit Smoking

Edited by Grimm, Dougie, Anonymous

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This guide is part of our series of articles on improving and maintaining your health and wellness.

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What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking isn't easy, but it is doable, and worth the effort.

There is a great deal of conflicting information on the internet concerning what happens when you quit smoking, and the various side effects that you may experience as a result. These include topics such as weight gain, and the science of nicotine addiction, as well the opinions and advice of other smokers who managed to quit smoking.

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This VisiHow guide will discuss what happens at each of the four major stages of quitting smoking, and explain why these things are. Contrary to many sites that claim how easy it is to quit smoking, the fact is, it takes work and commitment. The people who find it easy are usually those who haven't smoked long, or who aren't heavy smokers. In most cases, they'll only experience some of the main side effects of quitting smoking for the first week or two. Heavy smokers who have been smoking for a long time are more likely to experience these symptoms over a much longer period of time. In some rare cases, they can last as long as three months. However, we've listed the most common and severe ones below.

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With that in mind, here are the four stages of recovery as you quit smoking, and what to expect in each stage as you progress towards being a healthy non-smoker.

What to Expect the First 7 Days you Quit Smoking

One of the hardest things to do is make it through the first week.

When you quit smoking, your body goes into a state of confused recovery. The brain, which craves nicotine, is no longer able to meet that need. In an effort to convince you to give it more nicotine, it deprives you of comfort, peace of mind, and even sleep. Meanwhile, the rest of your body is trying to repair the damage smoking has caused, which brings its own set of problems.

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This marks the first stage of what you'll experience when you stop smoking. While none of this is easy, it's worth it for your health and the health of those around you.

Physical Changes In Your Body Over the First 7 Days

  1. 1
    About 20 minutes from the time you have your last cigarette, your heart rate will start to drop down towards a more normal resting level.
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  2. 2
    Within two hours, your heart rate will have gone down to almost normal, at between 65 to 85 beats per minute.
    Circulation to your extremities, such as fingers and toes, will also start to improve, and your blood pressure will drop to an almost normal level.
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  3. 3
    Also within two hours, you may start to experience early withdrawal symptoms.
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  4. 4
    By 12 hours, the levels of carbon monoxide in your blood stream will have lowered.
    This will allow oxygen levels in your blood to increase to near normal levels.
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  5. 5
    At 24 hours, your heart attack rate will begin to lower towards that of a non-smoker.
    • Smokers have a 70% greater risk of heart attack than non-smokers.
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  6. 6
    In 48 hours, deadened senses and nerve endings will start to re-grow.
    You'll be able to taste and smell things better as a result.
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  7. 7
    By the third day, your body will have purged all of the nicotine in your system.
    Unfortunately, any unpleasant withdrawal symptoms will also peak during this period. Cravings, headaches, and nausea are just a few of the symptoms you may experience.
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  8. 8
    From the fourth day onward, symptoms should be less severe for most people, although long term or heavy smokers may continue to experience more intense cravings and longer periods of discomfort as their bodies adjust to living without nicotine and begin healing.
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Side Effects You Might Experience Over the First 7 Days

  1. 1
    Cold and Flu Symptoms:
    Because your respiratory system is healing itself, you may experience a wide range of symptoms commonly associated with a flu or cold. These include chest and nasal congestion, coughing, hot and cold flashes, and sore throats. Additionally, you may begin coughing up black tar as your lungs start to clean themselves. Cold medications can help with this.
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  2. 2
    Constipation:
    Smoking makes a mess of the normal digestive process, which most smokers become accustomed to over time as the body adjusts. However, when you stop smoking, the digestive tract goes into a healing process. During this time, and possibly at other times as well over the coming weeks, you may experience mild to severe constipation while your digestive tract adjusts to being healthy once more, and repairs itself. Laxatives can help ease this process.
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  3. 3
    Fatigue:
    Your body is in overdrive healing itself from the ravages of the many toxic carcinogens in cigarettes. While it cleans out these poisons and heals itself, you will be extremely tired. Drinking large quantities of water will help the body, and getting plenty of rest will also help you to feel better. If you're having trouble sleeping, your doctor can recommend sleep medications to help you get more rest.
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  4. 4
    Headaches and Migraines:
    Some people will experience strong headaches, and even migraines. While the exact causes of this are currently unknown, it is believed to be linked to fluctuations in serotonin levels. If you are also cutting out caffeine to help combat insomnia, this can contribute to making these headaches even worse. Aspirin or paracetamol can be taken to alleviate discomfort caused by headaches.
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  5. 5
    Irritability and Mood Swings:
    Generally, this is worse for others than it is for you, unless you're in a position where you can't easily isolate yourself, such as management or teaching. Fortunately, these intense spells of irritability tend to peak at the same time as your cravings. Because of this, you can time them and manage your exposure to others. Unfortunately this is difficult to manage, and requires isolation or privacy so that others don't disturb you.
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  6. 6
    Physical Cravings:
    This stage will bring with it the worst and most intense cravings you are likely to experience. This is because your brain is signaling the body that it needs nicotine in order to function in the same way it has been. Contrary to common belief, this is actually a physical dependency, which the brain has basically hardwired. It takes time to break this cycle, but each time you successfully resist a craving, you break down the brain's pathways that trigger the craving need. Alternate activities are best to deal with these periods of intense cravings.
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  7. 7
    Weight Gain and Hunger:
    You'll find that you are constantly hungry when you quit smoking. This is because the nicotine in cigarettes tricks the body into releasing stored fats and sugars in a matter of seconds. Normally, a smoker can satisfy a craving for food and a craving for nicotine at the same time, without even realizing it. Because of this, their sugar levels tend to remain relatively stable, even when they aren't eating. However, when they quit smoking, the nicotine cravings and food cravings combine to wreak havoc. This causes those who quit smoking to gorge themselves on food for the 20 minutes it takes the body to naturally release sugars into the bloodstream. As a result, the average person who quits smoking gains almost 6 pounds (2.7kg).
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What to Expect Two Weeks After you Quit Smoking

The second and third weeks are easier, but still no walk in the park.

This is the second stage of what happens when you stop smoking. For most people, it will be a period where things get much better, although the cravings will likely still be strong and intense. For long term and heavy smokers, they may still be dealing with some of the more unpleasant side effects, but they should also be slowly getting better with each passing day.

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Physical Changes In Your Body Over the Next Two Weeks

  1. 1
    Unless you were a very heavy smoker, after Two Weeks, most of the withdrawal symptoms will have gone away.
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  2. 2
    You should also start feeling well enough that exercising won't cause you to be short of breath or feel ill.
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  3. 3
    Your body will continue to regenerate and rebuild itself.
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Side Effects You Might Experience Over the Next Two Weeks

  1. 1
    Cold and Flu Symptoms:
    Most of the flu and cold symptoms should be gone by now. The only lingering item will be chest discomfort, which will continue as your lungs expel accumulated tar (which you will be coughing up).
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  2. 2
    Constipation:
    This can strike at any time, and at any stage of the process of quitting smoking. Just be prepared for it, and if necessary, take a laxative to help move things along. Otherwise, if you haven't experienced it, be thankful, but remain prepared. The digestive tract can take longer to heal than other parts of the body, as it is such a complex balance of items that keeps it working properly.
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  3. 3
    Fatigue:
    Most people will start to feel more energetic at this stage, though some of the more long term or heavy smokers may still feel fatigue. This is because their bodies were more damaged by smoking, and will take longer to heal. The fatigue should gradually lessen over this period though.
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  4. 4
    Headaches and Migraines:
    If you haven't had any headaches yet, you're not likely to. For those of you who have had headaches, they should start clearing up, and be much less frequent and intense by this stage.
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  5. 5
    Irritability and Mood Swings:
    You'll still likely be unpleasant to be around from time to time, but as your cravings wane, the mood swings will lessen too. Before too long, you'll be back to normal.
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  6. 6
    Physical Cravings:
    You will continue to experience at least mild cravings, but most likely you'll still have some severe cravings in there as well. This is because your brain still has the neural pathways in place that trigger cravings compelling you to smoke. Just keep in mind the fact that every time you deny a craving, you're physically deteriorating the neural network associated with craving, and making it less strong.
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  7. 7
    Weight Gain and Hunger:
    This will be directly tied to your cravings, unless you haven't properly managed it, in which case you're probably eating like a horse. The good news is that regardless of how much you're eating, you've managed to quit smoking. Stick to that, and you can worry about weight loss after the three-month mark.
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What to Expect One Month After you Quit Smoking

By now, you've been smoke free for almost one month, and can feel the difference.

This is the third stage of what happens when you stop smoking. It's also one of the points where a lot of people relax a little too much and start smoking again. Make sure to stay focused, and pay attention over the next two months, as these are the hardest to carry yourself through while maintaining your commitment to quit smoking.

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Physical Changes In Your Body Over the Next Two Months

  1. 1
    After One Month, your body will begin to repair your lungs.
    It will clean them out, and over the next nine months, they'll completely repair themselves.
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  2. 2
    You'll feel significantly more energized, as well as hungrier than before.
    Now is a great time for you to start exercising and losing weight.
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  3. 3
    After three months, the levels of nicotine receptors in your brain will be the same as that of a non-smoker.
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Side Effects You Might Experience Over the Next Two Months

  1. 1
    Cold and Flu Symptoms:
    Any symptoms you may still be experiencing will be much less frequent and severe. For most people they will be completely gone by this period. The only exception is that heavy smokers may still be coughing up a bit of tar as their lungs continue to heal.
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  2. 2
    Constipation:
    If you are experiencing constipation at all, it should be very mild. By now the digestive tract has had plenty of time to set things right, and things should be working normally.
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  3. 3
    Fatigue:
    You should no longer experience any fatigue, as the major systems of your body will have healed themselves by this point.
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  4. 4
    Headaches and Migraines:
    Your headaches should be completely gone at this stage, as serotonin levels will be back to normal.
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  5. 5
    Irritability and Mood Swings:
    Your mood should be markedly improved by this time, and you should have no problem managing it. There will still be ups and downs that come with periods of cravings, but they will be much less intense than they were earlier.
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  6. 6
    Physical Cravings:
    By now you've battled and beaten down your cravings enough that they should be fairly mild. More often than not your cravings will be triggered by a familiar memory, or habitual behavior you formerly associated with smoking. Some examples could include having a cigarette after accomplishing something, or smoking in a bar or club. If you still feel these urges, it's usually best to stay away from places and situations you associate with smoking to make sure you don't start smoking again.
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  7. 7
    Weight Gain and Hunger:
    By now, your body should have learned how to manage and regulate blood sugar again, and you should be able to manage your weight gain. Remember that portion control is key to this. If you've been following a program of weight management from the start, you should be on your way to losing weight and being more fit.
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What to Expect Three Months After you Quit Smoking

At three months, you're well on your way to staying smoke free. Keep it up.

Stage four is that period from three months to two years, where a number of people who have what it takes to quit smoking make a mistake and start again. These are people who have quit, but in a moment of poor judgment decide to have just one cigarette, and end up smoking again.

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It lasts longer than the other periods, because after two years, few people who have quit smoking ever go back to smoking again. They've mastered themselves, and in the process have learned to control and manage any cravings they may have.

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Physical Changes In Your Body From Four Months On

  1. 1
    By six months, you should have no visible physical conditions or symptoms that you ever smoked.
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  2. 2
    After One Year, your risk of heart disease will be 50% less than it was when you were smoking.
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Side Effects You Might Experience From Four Months On

  1. 1
    Physical Cravings:
    By now, you've passed the major stages of cravings, and cleared all of the other hurdles as well. However, you will still experience cravings. Some of them can be more intense than others, but overall they will be mild. From about six months to one year, they can still be bothersome, but by one year, nearly all smokers who quit report that they go weeks and months between craving cigarettes. However, there is one notable exception to this. Emotional triggers that you may have previously associated with smoking, such as smoking to alleviate relationship stress or work stress, will continue to cause strong cravings. This will continue until you have overcome these cravings enough to also break down the neural pathways associated with them.
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Additional Benefits Over the Years of Quitting Smoking

  • After 5 years, but not more than 15 years for the heaviest smokers, your risk of having a stroke is the same as a non-smoker.
  • The carbon monoxide causes blood vessels to shrink, which increases the risk of stroke.
  • After 10 years, you'll be 50% less likely to develop lung cancer than a smoker, and your risk for other types of cancer, including bladder, esophagus, kidney, mouth, pancreas, and throat, will also decrease.
  • On average, non-smokers live 14 years longer than smokers.
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Tips and Suggestions for When You Quit Smoking

  • Have a support network of non-smokers who can help you. Make sure you can always reach someone to talk with or engage - even if it's only over the phone.
  • Avoid places where you are likely to encounter smokers. As a general rule, areas like museums, art galleries, and fitness facilities are great places to go where you won't encounter smokers once you're inside. Unfortunately, sometimes these places can have crowds of smokers at the entrances, but you'll likely encounter less of them if you go early in the day.
  • Consider counseling. While many people find that they can quit with the help of friends and online support networks, others find that they have better success with a counselor. Some health plans will also provide for discounted or free counseling. Check with your employer or health care provider for details.

Article Citations and References for Quit Smoking Timeline

The following articles, government sites, and medical journals were used in this guide.

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Recent edits by: Dougie, Grimm

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