Don’t Quit Smoking Cold Turkey

Learn about giving up smoking cold turkey and why getting support gives you a better chance of quitting for good.

Why You Shouldn’t Quit Smoking Cold Turkey

Every former smoker has a quitting story. For some it took many years while others managed to extinguish their last cigarette the first time they tried. Some people swear by NRT, while some managed to ride out the nicotine cravings and stop smoking cold turkey. The truth is, everyone is different, and what works for some won’t work for others.

However, when it comes to giving up smoking cold turkey, there’s evidence to suggest that it’s not the best approach—particularly if you’re determined to quit first time. But why is this method of quitting so difficult for so many people? And what kind of issues can you expect if you do decide to quit smoking cold turkey? Here, we explore what cold turkey means and why you have a better chance of quitting with a quit smoking plan and proper support!

What is Cold Turkey and Why is it So Difficult?

To quit smoking cold turkey means to cease all tobacco products and all products containing nicotine entirely. This means that you do not gradually decrease the number of cigarettes you smoke, nor use NRT products to top up your nicotine levels and mitigate symptoms. In some definitions, it also means you don’t reach out for other types of support such as those available on the NHS.

These definitions are key to understanding the cold turkey method of quitting, as there can quite easily be confusion as to what the process means. In fact, a 2016 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine was celebrated in the media as promoting the “cold turkey” method as more successful than gradual cessation.[1]

However, what many media outlets failed to make clear was that the study, in fact, suggested that “individuals who stop smoking abruptly, when receiving counselling and using cessation medications, were more likely to be smoke-free in the short- and long-term compared to those who gradually cut down.”[2]

So, while the media promoted the idea that cold turkey was the best approach to quitting, the study itself said the opposite. Today, the idea that quitting cold turkey is the best approach is generally not supported by medical professionals or research, and most studies “recommend the use of NRT and Champix in combination with educational intervention”[3]

The simple fact is, if you decide to quit using this method, then nicotine withdrawal will be at its most intense, with the associated symptoms more significantly pronounced than if you gradually tapered off. However, it is worth highlighting that there are no health risks associated with giving up smoking cold turkey, and it is just a safe for your body as other methods.

Issues with Quitting Cold Turkey

For anyone who wants to quit smoking, the biggest issues are nearly always the symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal. These include:

  • Craving cigarettes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Cough and sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches and Dizziness
  • Bowel Changes
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Cognitive Impairment

For smokers attempting to quit smoking cold turkey, then this range of symptoms is the most common reason that those attempts fail. While you may be able to keep the many benefits of quitting smoking in your mind, sometimes, the cravings are just too intense, and your body and mind become exhausted with abstinence—leading to lighting up a cigarette.

The good news is that these symptoms are temporary, usually improving in a few days to a couple of weeks depending on your smoking habits. The bad news, however, is that if you don’t have a solid quit smoking plan, you’re very quickly drawn into the “just one cigarette” trap.

Thinking of Giving up Smoking Cold Turkey? Get Support Instead

As suggested by the report in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the best way to quit is to combine support with quit smoking aids, rather than try stop smoking cold turkey. Today, there are many options available if you want to quit using these methods, and the NHS Stop Smoking Service can help you put together a stop smoking plan that you can stick to.

Types of support include:

  • The creation of a stop smoking plan tailored to you and your lifestyle
  • 12-week programme to help you quit
  • NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy)
  • Prescription drugs such as Varenicline (Champix) and Bupropion (Zyban)
  • One-to-one and group stop smoking sessions
  • Face-to-face or phone check-up to precent relapse
  • Emergency phone number to help you cope with cravings.

Combined, it is thought that combining multiple smoking cessation aids such as these will make it three times more likely that you successfully quit.[4] Considering the number of failed attempts that many people experience, this is a hugely significant improvement on quitting smoking using the cold turkey method.

For more information on quitting smoking with support, you can call the NHS Stop Smoking Service in your area to arrange a meeting and discuss your options. Additionally, other types of support are available at, and you can find the right type of NRT products for your lifestyle on the NiQuitin website.

Finally, why you may have heard many stories about people who managed to white-knuckle the worst nicotine cravings and quit smoking cold turkey, remember that everyone is different, and there is never any shame in reaching out for help—particularly if helps you quit for good!


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