What Triggers The Urge To Smoke and How Can I Overcome These Cravings?

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Common smoking triggers

Unfortunately, smoking is a way of life for most smokers and there are many instances that can trigger the urge to smoke. The most common trigger is associated with emotions. There are a range of emotions including stress, anxiety and sadness that can set off the urge to want to smoke. The instant release of nicotine creates an immediate sense of relaxation, and smoking in these types of situations almost turns into a coping mechanism.

There are also certain activities and times that are associated with smoking, such as after a meal, after sex, whilst on a work break and before bed. The reason smoking is common in these situations is similar to that of smoking when feeling certain emotions. The immediate release of nicotine causes the brain to release endorphins (feel good hormones), that cause a sensation of relaxation in certain situations, and can also increase the “feel good” emotions after a satisfying experience, such as a meal or sex.

Other situations that can trigger the urge to smoke being around the smell of smoke, or certain times where smoking is habitual, such as with a coffee, whilst driving, or when bored.


Resisting Nicotine Cravings

During my professional career, I’ve conducted multiple smoking cessation clinics where I’ve been able to analyse successful versus non-successful outcomes. I’ve realised that those who want to give up smoking need to be mentally ready. Smoking is a way of life for many and almost becomes a natural reflex in certain situations. For this reason, you need to prepare yourself mentally in order to win the fight. The most effective way is to look into the different ways and techniques that need to be put into practice over the course of your journey into giving up smoking. Identify the times at which you are most likely to smoke, and have a plan on what you’re going to do instead. Effective techniques involve:

The straw technique

It sounds bizarre but cutting a straw and holding it in the same way you would hold a cigarette helps to keep your hands busy. Inhaling on the straw gives the same hand to mouth action and tricks your mind into thinking you are smoking.


Snack on healthy foods such as carrots and cucumbers. You can even cut them into shapes that resemble a cigarette and eat them when you are getting cravings. Try to choose low calorie snacks to avoid gaining weight.


People smoke as the nicotine provides a release of endorphins, the feel-good hormone. Exercise is extremely important as it releases the same hormones that make you feel good, potentially reducing cravings. As you find yourself getting fitter and stronger with exercise, it gives you the motivation to want to better yourself and become healthier. Exercise also helps you cope with stress and gives you more energy and as you find yourself feeling better than you did when you were a smoker, you’ll find your cravings slowly starting to decrease.


I’ve encountered numerous smokers who want to quit for their family. It’s no secret that smoking, including passive smoking is the root cause of many illnesses and diseases. Every time you feel the urge to smoke, look at a picture that will remind you of the reason why you decided to quit. It could be a picture of your family, or even a picture of a smoker’s lungs. This is an unorthodox technique, but one that works.


Meditating allows you to recognise and accept the changes your body is going through when quitting smoking. By embracing this change and the way you are feeling, you are accepting the change you have decided to make, and reflecting on the positives and the successful outcome. It allows you time to think about reshaping your behaviour and altering your reactions to cravings by learning to deal with the change rather than escape it. You are able to learn self-control through contemplation and mindfulness.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

People smoke because they are addicted to nicotine. Nicotine Replacement Therapy provides nicotine in smaller amounts without any of the dangerous and harmful chemicals that are present in cigarettes. It can help those that are experiencing unpleasant withdrawal effects such as mood swings, overeating and difficulty falling asleep. NRT is available in the form of patches, sprays, inhalators, tablets/lozenges and chewing gum. They are available in different strengths and you should visit your GP or pharmacist who can advise you on the most appropriate strength and techniques on how to taper your dose down until it is not needed.


Medication such as Zyban and Champix can be prescribed to help you stop smoking. It’s not fully understood how Zyban works, but it is thought to regulate mood and behaviour by increasing the levels of noradrenaline and dopamine. Champix works by binding to nicotine receptors, so that the nicotine from cigarettes are not able to bind to the receptors. The immediate release of dopamine that is released from smoking is no longer there, making smoking pointless. Champix also helps to cut cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms by binding to nicotine receptors and stimulating them partly.

Whilst all of our content is written and reviewed by healthcare professionals, it is not intended to be substituted for or used as medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please speak to your doctor.