On quitting smoking – cold turkey and silver linings

Giving up smoking suddenly, with no outside help or support, is known as going ‘cold turkey’.


More by accident rather than by design, I am quitting smoking by going “cold turkey”. I had an infarct episode just over 3 weeks ago which led to hospitalisation and the insertion of 2 stents. During my 3.5 days in hospital I had no desire to – and did not – smoke. If I had any withdrawal symptoms at that time I was not aware of them. Presumably, I had other more pressing concerns. Now I am home again and still have not smoked. Withdrawal symptoms are present in force and the urge to light up can be extremely strong – though only for short periods. I am extremely irritable and find I cannot focus for long periods. I have, so far, declined offers of nicotine plasters, nicotine replacement, some other drugs and counselling.  Of course, three weeks without a cigarette proves very little. I did though wonder why nicotine replacement was being promoted so heavily and – mainly by neglect – going cold turkey was being discouraged.

Heavy googling with multiple search terms reveals a sharp divide between those promoting going “cold turkey” and those opposed to it. But then it becomes apparent that all those opposed to going cold turkey are – not unsurprisingly – those who are promoting an alternative. They include promoters of  Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRT), or some particular drugs, or some particular kind of counselling.

Harvard Health:  A recent study randomly assigned about 700 participants to either gradually cut back on smoking over two weeks or quit abruptly on a set quit date. Both groups were offered counseling support as well as nicotine patches and other forms of short-acting nicotine replacement. The group assigned to cold turkey was significantly more successful at quitting smoking, both at the 4-week follow-up (49% vs. 39%) and the 6-month follow-up (22% vs. 15%).

The promoters of nicotine replacement would have it that my decision to go “cold turkey” has little chance of success.

TruthinitiativeRelying on willpower alone, however, is not likely to be successful. Research over the past 25 years has shown that, out of 100 people trying to quit smoking cold turkey, only about three to five of them will succeed for longer than six months, according to Hays. In other words, while some people can quit this way, at least 95 percent of people can’t. Quitting cold turkey has such a low success rate due to the nature of addiction. Addiction undermines willpower, or the ability to control impulses through decision-making.

My googling is hardly research, but I have come to the conclusion that while quitting cold turkey does not work for all smokers, most smokers finally quit smoking this way  The simple reality seems to be that successfully going cold turkey is likely to be most successful in avoiding a return to smoking. I find I resent the claims of the promoters of NRT – though they may well be correct. “Quitting cold turkey has such a low success rate due to the nature of addiction”. I think I have to take the challenge. My rational mind tells me that if my body has done without a cigarette for 3 weeks then there can be no desperate physical need for nicotine. There is no doubt that the most insidious part of the craving is when the mind imagines the previously experienced pleasures at certain trigger points (cup of coffee, cold beer, particular meal ……). I can never, now, claim the identity of being a non-smoker, but an identity as an ex-smoker will do for me. But I think I shall need to wait for a year before I can claim to be an ex-smoker.

Going cold turkey is perhaps the silver lining to my infarct cloud.

(Note that the purpose of this post is not to give advice to anyone but to create an additional pressure on myself to help resist the urge to return to smoking).


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2 Responses to “On quitting smoking – cold turkey and silver linings”

  1. cristian toader Says:

    After 20 years of smoking ( 1 pack / day) I’ve quit smoking, cold turkey, and next year I’ll celebrate 20 years without cigarettes! Quitting smoking was one of the best decisions in my life , if not the best!

  2. Sampath Says:

    Bravo…..and you have all of us rooting for your “cold turkey” endeavour👍

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