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What does craving cigarettes feel like?

Cigarette cravings can be an extremely uncomfortable and intense experience for smokers and ex-smokers. A craving for a cigarette is both a physical and psychological desire to smoke. Understanding what cigarette cravings feel like can help smokers identify triggers and cope with the feelings more effectively.

Physical sensations

Cigarette cravings produce a variety of physical sensations in the body. Common physical symptoms of a cigarette craving include:

  • A tight feeling in the chest
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating or clamminess
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pain or nausea
  • Restlessness or fidgeting
  • Shakiness
  • Tightness in the shoulders or neck

These physical sensations are caused by nicotine withdrawal. When a regular smoker goes too long without smoking a cigarette, their body begins to miss the nicotine it’s used to. This causes uncomfortable physical symptoms that create an intense urge to smoke.

Psychological feelings

In addition to physical feelings, cigarette cravings also produce a variety of psychological sensations including:

  • Strong focus on cigarettes
  • Feeling driven or compelled to smoke
  • Powerful urge to put a cigarette to your mouth
  • Feeling like you “need” a cigarette
  • Feeling impatient, irritated, or angry
  • Trouble concentrating on anything else
  • Feeling anxious, nervous, or restless
  • Feeling deprived or like something is missing

These psychological feelings are caused by both nicotine withdrawal and the habitual nature of smoking. Smoking becomes linked in the brain with certain activities, emotions, or times of day. When those triggers occur, the brain begins to crave the cigarette it associates with them.

Cravings timeline

Cigarette cravings tend to follow a predictable timeline. A craving begins within hours after the last cigarette. It peaks in intensity between 24-72 hours after quitting. Some common timeframes for cigarette cravings include:

  • 20-30 minutes after the last cigarette – Mild psychological craving begins
  • 1-2 hours after the last cigarette – Physical withdrawal symptoms emerge
  • 24 hours after the last cigarette – Cravings and withdrawal symptoms peak
  • 48-72 hours after the last cigarette – Cravings may continue to intensify
  • 3-5 days after the last cigarette – Acute physical withdrawal largely subsides but psychological urges may remain

However, cravings can still persist weeks, months, or even years after quitting smoking. Certain triggers can bring on intense urges even after long periods of abstinence.

Most Common Triggers

Cigarette cravings can be set off by many different triggers. Being aware of common triggers can help smokers better manage cravings when they occur. Some of the most frequent triggers include:

  • Finished meals – Many smokers light up after eating
  • Drinking coffee or alcohol – Caffeine and alcohol are linked with smoking
  • Being around other smokers – Seeing or smelling smoke can trigger urges
  • Stressful situations – Smoking is a perceived stress reliever
  • Boredom – Lighting up occupies idle hands and mind
  • Talking on the phone – A strong smoking association for many
  • Driving – Linked to long or short drives for many smokers

Being prepared when common triggers arise can help smokers avoid giving in to cravings in tempting situations.

Coping Strategies

Cigarette cravings can be extremely difficult to resist. But there are strategies and techniques smokers can use to cope with cravings and urges when they occur:

  • Delay lighting up – The peak urge often passes within 3-5 minutes
  • Distract yourself – Find an activity to busy your hands and mind
  • Go for a walk – Physical activity can help relieve tension
  • Drink water – Dehydration can mimic cravings
  • Breathe deeply – Relaxation techniques can help calm urges
  • Chew gum – Oral substitutes help manage hand-to-mouth cravings
  • Talk to someone – Social support can help you get through a craving
  • Remind yourself why you quit – Refocus on your motivations and goals

Having some coping strategies ready and practicing them ahead of time can build confidence for resisting those cigarette cravings when they strike.

When cravings won’t stop

Most cigarette cravings pass within a few minutes. But occasionally cravings can last longer or feel completely uncontrollable. If urges become so overpowering they threaten your ability to stay quit, try some emergency options:

  • Call a support hotline for coping assistance
  • Talk to your doctor about cessation medication options
  • Avoid places you frequently smoked
  • Switch up your routine to break habit triggers
  • Look into hypnotherapy or acupuncture to curb urges

Don’t be afraid to get outside help when cravings feel too powerful to manage. Counseling, therapy, medication, or other support can make all the difference in resisting those strong desires to smoke.


Cigarette cravings produce an array of uncomfortable physical and psychological sensations driven by nicotine addiction and ingrained smoking habits. Being prepared for cravings before they happen and having coping strategies ready can help smokers manage these temporary but intense urges without relapsing. While difficult, resisting cravings gets easier with practice over time. Understanding what cigarette cravings feel like is the first step to gaining control over them.