The stages of quitting smoking

A stage by stage process of quitting smoking

Written by spunout


It’s only natural to be worried about what might happen if you decide to quit smoking. So we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to give you a rough idea of the various stages you might go through when quitting.

You may go through some or all of these stages when you give up smoking or vaping, as both contain the addictive substance nicotine.

Stage One: Thinking about quitting

You know smoking is bad for you but you’re not sure whether to quit or not. Part of you feels that kicking your nicotine addiction is one of the best things you can do for your health but there’s another part of you that just can’t let the habit go because you enjoy smoking or vaping. It’s almost as though you’ve got a debate going on inside of your head.

At this stage you might consider drawing up a list of pros and cons to help you decide what to do next.

Stage Two: Making the decision to quit

You’ve decided to listen to the little voice that’s telling you it’s time to quit smoking. You know what you need to do and now it’s time to get ready to give it a go.

What to do

  • Make a plan to quit. Work out a strategy to make the process as easy as possible
  • Set your date and stick to it.
  • Drawing up a list of triggers (things that you know will lead to you craving a cigarette) and what you will do instead when the craving hits
  • Do you need to find something else to do on your coffee break? Avoid other smokers for a little while? Could you make any changes around the house to make things that bit easier?
  • Visit your GP to talk about your options in terms of scientifically proven treatments to help you quit, such as the gum, patch or others
  • Get support. Combining treatment with personal support will really increase your chances of success. Have someone you can call when you have the urge to smoke, join a support group, or try quitting with a friend 

Stage Three: Putting out your last cigarette

You set the date during Stage Two and when the big day arrives you cut out smoking completely. This will be the most difficult part of the process because if there’s one thing your body will be screaming out for, it’s a cigarette. 

Here are some things to expect…

Withdrawal symptoms and cravings

You’re probably going to have withdrawal symptoms and cravings but if you just hang in there it’ll get easier after a few days.

Try the 4 Ds for dealing with cravings:

  • Distract yourself by focusing on something else
  • Delay until the urge passes – usually within 3 to 5 minutes
  • Take a Deep breath 20 times
  • Drink a glass of cold water or fruit juice

Mood swings

It’s not unusual to feel anxious and have trouble sleeping during the withdrawal period either. Eventually those feelings will wear off and you’ll go through something of a honeymoon period. You’ll feel a lot better as your mood improves, your energy returns and the cravings die down a little.

The “second slump”

The second slump may hit just when you think you’re out of the woods. Sometimes it’ll bring flu-like symptoms with it and you might feel tired and irritable. Those cravings you thought were long gone may rear their ugly heads again so it’s important to stand your ground until things calm down.


While many people are able to quit on the first attempt, some smokers will have a relapse phase. It might take two or three quitting attempts to quit for good, but quitting is absolutely possible. 

Be careful with risky situations such as being in a smoking area. Certain environments or triggers could bring on cravings once again. Get to know your triggers so you’ve got the best chance of staying on track.

If you can make it this far, things will stabilise and you’ll be well on the road to staying smoke free for good.

Stage Four: Staying off the cigarettes

Congratulations! You’ve made it through the worst of the withdrawal and got a handle on your cravings.

Whatever you do during this stage, you must keep your guard up because you could become a bit complacent, forget just how hard it was to get here, and consider having “just the one”. If you do, all your hard work will be undone and you’ll be right back at the very beginning.

You’ve been doing great and every day you stay away from cigarettes is another day of success!

Stage Five: Staying smoke free

It’s time to celebrate because you’ve put an end to all those cravings and no longer rely on nicotine to get you through your day. You’ve probably figured out exactly what triggered your need to smoke in the first place and managed to find healthier ways to deal with the situation.

However, you can’t forget the fact that you’ve had a long-standing relationship with smoking and the temptation to go back will always be there in some shape or form. No matter how much time passes, taking just one puff of a cigarette could send you all the way back to a full blown smoking habit.

Slipping up and smoking

Some smokers quit successfully the first time but for many others it’ll take a few attempts before they manage to give the habit up for good. That might not be much consolation when you’re feeling disappointed but it’s well worth keeping it in the back of your mind.

Don’t allow the negative feelings to overwhelm you or start doubting yourself. Just take a look back, figure out what worked and what didn’t, and then get ready to give it a go again.

Things to remember

Disclaimer: There is more than one way to quit smoking. You may need to try a few different things to find what is right for you. For advice and support on quitting, visit


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