Anger and Quitting Smoking

Grieving and Withdrawal

The stages of grief and loss can be somewhat similar to the stages of quitting smoking. It is extremely common to become angry or even enraged, or to experience intense bursts of anger when you are quitting smoking. When you experience triggers, such as highly stressful situations or experiences in their daily lives, you may become intensely frustrated. This is not the same as typical frustration; anger felt during the quitting process is often extremely intense. This may seem totally out of character for you. It may also lead to inner conflict, and you may have difficulty understanding exactly why you are so angry.

This can be extremely difficult for the people around you. Friends, family members, and partners may find it extremely difficult to deal with you and your angry outbursts. It can be a major annoyance for those around you, but there are ways to deal with it successfully.

The Process

Generally, one of two situations occurs when a smoker who is in the quitting process experiences a frustrating moment. Either the smoker will need to resolve the conflict before he or she can relax, or enough time will have to pass that the frustration itself is allowed to dissipate. If you are quitting, you may be unable to rationalize your anger in the same ways that you normally would. You may face the exact same situations that the average person experiences, only to become intensely angry as a result. It can be difficult for smokers to recognize this shift in coping ability. It is this shift that can cause people to feel like smoking is a benefit, rather than a hindrance, to their anger.

Stress, Withdrawal, and Urine Acidity

Stress has many effects on the human body. One of the most common effects is that it tends to acidify urine. This is a normal process, and also happens in non-smokers, but the after-effects are different in people who smoke. When there is nicotine within the human body, and stressful situations occur, urine acidifiers and pulls nicotine from the body, into the bladder itself.

Because of this process, the brain suddenly realizes that it is low on nicotine. This results in an instant withdrawal situation, and nicotine cravings. This leads to even further stress, and emotional upheaval. It also adds to the effects of the withdrawal itself. This ends up causing a vicious cycle of smoking, being in withdrawal, becoming angry, and smoking again.

Solving the Cycle

While most people could get around this by resolving the conflict itself, this is more difficult in those who are experiencing nicotine withdrawal. Even if the problem that caused the stressful situation is fixed, the smoker is likely to still feel anger. It is here that only the addition of more nicotine to the body will resolve the feelings of anger.

Alternatively, the smoker can remain free of nicotine for at least 72 hours. This will completely eliminate nicotine from the body and bloodstream through urine, feces, and sweat. Instead of sitting in the body as nicotine, it is metabolized into other chemicals that, while still somewhat harmful, won’t cause nicotine withdrawal. Smoking another cigarette is actually counter-intuitive because of the cycle it induces. But the calming ability of each cigarette lasts for only a few seconds to a few minutes. 20 to 30 minutes later, the user needs to smoke again in order to stay calm. Repeating this cycle for the rest of a smoker’s life means the smoker is causing harm to themselves just to maintain the cycle itself.

Why it’s Problematic

An additional problem occurs because the smoker feels as if the smoking was justified. The brain begins to tell the smoker that smoking assisted him with calming himself, and is necessary in order for the smoker to remain calm at all. This is a false trick the brain plays within many addictions, both to cigarettes and otherwise. This is also known as an unhealthy coping skill. While it may help for the moment, it is better for the person who is quitting to learn to deal with intense emotions, sadness, depression, and/or anger without using substances to calm those feelings. It also inhibits the potential for personal growth.

Real-Life Examples

As an example, consider if you were living with someone who constantly leaves flicks of toothpaste on the mirror. Staying calm, pointing it out, and sharing why you feel strongly about it will usually be enough to convince the person to be more careful when brushing their teeth. This is how relationships work; clear communication is the way to solve these issues. If you are a smoker who is in the quitting process, this very minor issue will likely seem like a much bigger deal to you than it otherwise would. You become upset because it is the 8th time this has occurred in the last month. This stress leads to nicotine being pulled out of the body, which triggers an instant withdrawal situation. You choose to have a cigarette, which leads to feeling a little bit better. This allows you to get some space from the situation, and begin to rationalize it again. You let it go, because you assume that the issue is resolved. However, the issue hasn’t been resolved at all; you’ve just distracted yourself from dealing with the actual problem by smoking.

You may even quit smoking, only to find that the same situation occurs years later, and it triggers you in the same way that it originally did. Instead of being angry but letting it go, you explode. This is because the original issue was never resolved, and thus, you are releasing years of anger at the same scenario. While you will probably feel ridiculous for your anger, it is only to be expected. You may even start to question whether or not you are having emotional difficulties, based on your reaction. If you had just dealt with the situation when it first occurred, you wouldn’t be so angry now. Think of the years of mild annoyances stacking on top of one another; eventually, the tower is going to fall over.

How Smoking Holds You Back

Smoking stops you from really digging into issues; it distracts you from dealing with your feelings or emotions, and this itself can be addictive. It’s far easier to distract from feelings than it is to deal with them on the spot, although it is much healthier to address the issues rather than distract yourself from them.

The best way to prevent this from ever occurring is to stop smoking, and begin addressing your problems one at a time. By learning these conflict resolution skills and communication styles now, you can prevent further issues from occurring in the future. In turn, this will help to ensure that you never pick up a cigarette again.

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  1. I just don’t think this is an answer to anger and withdrawal; your answer is more intense? Anger is intense. We all have anger. I live across the street from drug dealers and the police do not care. The teenager who sells daddy’s pot and coke all summer, lives right across the street, throws fireworks all night, no one gets a good night’s sleep around here and our pets are upset. There is nothing any of us can do. We are angry as a neighborhood. To say anger will be more intense during withdrawal is absurd. What about someone delinating coping skills. Always, authors say, seek out coping skills and everything will be okay. Why not include in your articles some perspectives and put the withdrawal on a secondary level. That is to say, they should not intertwine but anger could push you to smoke as that has been the coping mechanism you could only find in Life. Teach not preach, what are coping mechanisms for anger? Very disappointed your article was DIY…just find a different coping mechanism. Print what are coping mechanisms to use instead of cigarettes? Get specific. Put withdrawal where it belongs, it is a physical discomfort that will pass and how the brain will be retrained not to consider smoking after a week, weeks, or month. Also, why not explain what the brain goes through adjusting to hard-wired change of behavior and the chemical changes. Just DIY everywhere you go on the net to read about how-to quit. To reiterate, I am very disappointed in your article.

  2. Great article especially for someone who had an addiction. And actually feels this way currently. Thank u for writing this is helps me think I’m not crazy.

  3. I’m experiencing aggressive and sudden mood swings coupled with insomnia. My entire body tenses up and I growl out loud, clenching my fists and saying “I hate you!” Referring to myself. I’m not sure why. It is like a demonic possession. I just said all sorts of mean things via text to the girl I’ve been seeing and made her utterly confused and sad. I thought I was being funny, but then suddenly realized I was being merciless. “Worst valentine’s ever.” “It’s all your fault” “Maybe next time you’ll respond to my texts” When I realized I was hurting her, I had an apologetic mood swing. “I’m sorry, I’m embarrassed, I’m an idiot.” Self deprecating. Then she didn’t respond, and I had another violent convulsion of self hatred. Ouch. I feel really disassociated from this uncharacteristic anger, but then again I always used to smoke to cope with its genesis.

  4. I’m coming up to my 3rd month of non smoking and from time to time I hate how empty and lost I feel. .I really can’t explain how I feel…very sad and down..I have no get up and go..hope it doesn’t last to much longer. .

    • Oh man, I am sorry for you but glad I am not the only one who is feeling this way…I’m 2 months in and am feeling like “really, if I’m going to feel like crap, maybe I should just smoke”. I have refrained but I am so angry and hateful about the whole thing and I WANTED to quit smoking it wasn’t like someone forced me. Agree, hope it doesn’t last much longer! Good Luck to you.

  5. Smoking has been truly bad for me. I picked up a cigarette at 32 yrs. old, all because I was going through a stressful event at the time. I was given a Newport 100 cigarette to smoke. I at first thought, how bad could this be??? The so called friend at the time told me,”This will get rid of your STRESS.” So, I took a puff and choked and coughed and felt like throwing up. I had a headache and nicotine high headache I should say. However, after that I pretended to inhale, until a another so called friend caught on to what I was doing with the cigarette. Then, I was the student learning for the first time how to actually smoke a cigarette and inhale it and blow out the smoke. This morning, I woke up and decided I have had enough of smoking cigarettes. The cravings, the smell on my hands, face, hair, clothing and feeling like crap, and needing a cigarette every 5 to 10 mins. (A chain smoker). Enough already, I keep telling myself. So, today I go to a smoking cessation class at 2:00 p.m. Wish me luck… I know I can do this!!! Thanks!

  6. I thought this was really helpful, I’m researching for my partner.
    I used to smoke full time and then got pregnant, was enough to make me quit so I can appreciate how hard it is for someone quitting without the guilt literally living inside.

    I’m unsure about the first comment listed, I think this article is useful. Perhaps they just skipped anger management class ?
    Thank you all for great advice.

  7. Hi everyone. I’m on Day 11 of not smoking, and it has been so tough…there are waves of anger that hit me at inoportune times, and it makes me feel like the craziest person…the good news is that I know that if we can just get through the cravings and waves of intense irrational moments, it’s not too bad… I’ve tried to quit dozens of times over the past 12-15 years, and have always gone back to it… I know I want this… I know it’s the smart, healthy choice, and that I need to be an amazing example for my kids… But oh my gosh, today I had a crazy freak out over nothing, and felt like the worst mom, sister and wife in the world… Here’s hoping I can get through this anger, and become a better, healthier person…hang in there everyone… We can do this… And we have to learn to cope without smoking… Good luck to you all… And remember, “Not one puff, Not ever”

  8. I am on a day 0, of this month every day of quitting smoke. The longest that I’ve been smoke free for 2 weeks, when I started feel better, and almost believed that I quit. Until, the next day I had an argument where i went really angry for no reason with my husband that trigger me go outside and have just 1 cigarette. Since that day I cannot stay away from smoke completely, because every evening I must to have one cigarette, and there is no way for me to avoid it. I tried to through in a trash a pack and lighter, but next evening i would go and buy another pack of smoke. Please someone advise me how to stop smoke the one stupid cigarette by the end of a day, because all day i am going just fine without smoke. I started hate myself for being so wick and not knowing how to say don’t smoke to myself every evening.

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