Congratulations! You took the first big step and you quit smoking. It is a big step, even if you only quit today. You’ve probably heard about how hard it can be to quit, especially when you think about withdrawing from smoking.
You’re actually not withdrawing from “smoking.” The cigarettes you smoked all contained nicotine, which is a naturally occurring and highly addictive substance. Those cigarettes were simply the vehicle through which the nicotine entered your bloodstream and brain. So you’re withdrawing from the nicotine, which acts on your brain, body and even your emotional state as though it were a drug.
Why do you feel these bothersome symptoms? Because your body is adjusting itself to not having a regular supply of nicotine coming in. Depending on how many cigarettes you smoked in one day or how frequently you smoked, your withdrawal may be mild—or it may become a little more extreme.
You should know that, yes, you will feel symptoms of nicotine withdrawal several hours after you’ve smoked your last cigarette. Knowing this will encourage you to have coping methods ready for when the first symptoms make themselves felt. Some of these include having low-calorie, crunchy snacks ready so you can distract yourself. Also, keep a pen or pencil handy so you can hold it just like you held your cigarettes. Don’t forget about rounding up moral and emotional support from those around you so you don’t give in and begin smoking again.
Once the physical symptoms have abated, you’ll still have to worry about those troublesome cravings, which will persist for several months after you smoked your last cigarette. When you encounter a situation in which you generally enjoyed a cigarette, you’ll feel the craving—such as, after dinner or while enjoying an alcoholic beverage. While you’re at work, you may struggle with the craving for a smoke when you go on a break. If you smoked while driving, you may feel like sticking a cigarette in between your lips and lighting up. Be ready for these times. That pen or pencil idea can help you, either at work or while you’re driving.
Pull the pen (or pencil) out while you’re driving or on break and hold it just like a cigarette. If you feel the urge while you’re relaxing after dinner, take a walk. Replace that old, bad habit with a new and healthy habit.
What Are the Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal? *
Nicotine withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Feeling hungrier than usual
- Weight gain
- Feeling sad
- Restlessness or jumpiness
- Lowered heart rate
- Irritability, feeling grouchy or “on edge”
- Inability to think clearly or concentrate
- Craving nicotine
You may also experience an increase in dreaming, headaches and dizziness. If this is making you rethink your decision to quit smoking, hold on! You do have ways of dealing with the cravings and withdrawal symptoms of nicotine. The worst of the symptoms should subside in about seven days. Beyond that, you’ll begin to feel the intensity of your symptoms and cravings beginning to lessen within about four weeks. However, quitting smoking is not a “one size fits all” situation. You may experience your symptoms for a longer time period—or for a shorter one.
Other smoking triggers and situations can include:
- Being around smokers
- Waking up and getting out of bed
- Drinking tea or coffee
“So, you mean every day situations can make me want to smoke? That’s going to happen every day, several times a day!” Yes, it will. When you know about them ahead of time, you can plan ahead to combat them.
When you experience a craving, use these suggestions to help you ride them out:
- Tell yourself that the cravings are temporary
- Keep sugarless gum or sliced veggies on hand
- Suck on hard candy
- Request nicotine replacement patches
- Oral medications can help
- Breathe deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Do this 10 times
How Can I Deal with Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms? *
Having coping techniques ready for when cravings strike is one way of addressing your withdrawal symptoms from nicotine, but what about those emotional responses? You need to be able to ride these out when they hit, too. Understand that, once you’ve quit smoking, these withdrawal symptoms can last between two and four weeks, reaching their peak at about Day Seven. Let’s look at a typical scenario for someone who’s just quit smoking:
Our smoker quit smoking about nine days ago. They’re wondering if they made a big mistake quitting just now. The situation at work is rough, with a huge project that’s just gotten underway. Our former smoker is managing a huge part of this project, so their stress level is through the roof—and that’s without taking nicotine withdrawal symptoms into account.
Their mood isn’t making things much better at home, because the children see and feel their rotten moods. This makes the former smoker feel even worse, knowing their children are feeling the effects of their emotional withdrawal symptoms. Our former smoker is beginning to wonder if it’s even worth quitting smoking. However, if they can use different tips to manage their emotions, they can get through the worst of the symptoms:
- Take part in physical activity
- Use self-talk: “This, too, shall pass.”
- Limit or avoid caffeine in soda, coffee and tea
- Soak in a hot bath at home
- Get a massage
Some former smokers may begin feeling agitation or anxiety. This focuses mainly in the neck and shoulders, leading to neck and upper back pain. If the anxiety becomes severe, nicotine replacement patches or even anti-anxiety medications may help. Some of the tips from above may also help, including taking some quiet time every day, whether in the morning or afternoon. During this time, you may decide to meditate, read, listen to calming music or work on a favorite craft.
Mild sadness can develop when you quit smoking. Nicotine affects the brain, so with none in your brain, you’re going to feel a mild depression. If this becomes more severe, your doctor can prescribe antidepressants to help. Nicotine replacement patches can help with emotional nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Other tips:
- Increase your level of physical activity
- Spend time with friends in enjoyable activities
- Breathe deeply
- Write down a list of things you find upsetting. Next, write down their solutions
- Identify your feelings when you feel depressed. See if you can identify this “depression” as being loneliness, boredom, tiredness or hunger
Can Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms Become Severe? *
You may be experiencing other severe nicotine withdrawal symptoms that are different from symptoms listed earlier. Some may be simply bothersome while others may actually be embarrassing. If you’re experiencing more severe symptoms, these can include:
- Mouth ulcers
- Cold symptoms (sore throat, sneezing earache, feeling “off,” deafness)
- Bowel disturbances
Call your doctor and let them know if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. You nay be able to obtain relief until your withdrawal symptoms disappear.
It’s not easy to quit smoking. Because your body became so reliant on nicotine, it’s no surprise that your body and emotions respond as they do. Do your utmost not to resume smoking.
How Long Will I Feel These Symptoms? *
A nicotine withdrawal symptoms timeline begins within hours of smoking your last cigarette. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Your body is reacting to the lack of nicotine, so give yourself a better chance of success by educating yourself.
Within the first few hours of your last cigarette and dose of nicotine, you’ll begin to feel the first symptoms. Be ready for these ahead of time. Call your doctor and ask them for a prescription for nicotine replacement patches. Apply them exactly as prescribed so your symptoms are lessened.
If you decide to ride the symptoms out without any medical assistance, you’ll experience the strongest symptoms for about two weeks, although this can differ from person to person. These withdrawal symptoms include the psychological and emotional ones as well. You may notice a drop in your cognitive performance, so let your supervisor know you’ve quit smoking.
If you do decide you need medical or behavioral help so you don’t start smoking again, you have these medications available:
- Smoking cessation medications (Chantix or Varenicline tartrate)
- Antidepressants (Zyban)
- Nicotine replacement therapy (nicotine gum or adhesive skin patches). If your doctor tells you to use a nicotine nasal spray or inhaler, you’ll need a prescription for these
Try to use these smoking cessation aids for the shortest amount of time possible. Talk to your doctor about this.
Can My Withdrawal Symptoms Really Last For a Month? *
In a word, yes. The most acute symptoms can last for around four weeks, but this differs from person to person, depending on how many cigarettes a day you smoked and even how deeply you inhaled.
Remember those cravings? These aren’t going to vanish on Day 32. Instead, depending on what you’re doing or what your craving triggers are, you’ll continue to experience cravings to smoke for much longer than your physical, psychological or cognitive symptoms lasted.
Before you smoke your last cigarette, arm yourself with knowledge, support and, if needed medications. You’re doing something positive to restore health to your life and that of your loved ones. Even though you’re going to feel rotten for several weeks, the people around you should help you through it, especially if they support your goal for a healthy life long into the future.
Should you find that you need to rely on outside support to stop yourself from smoking again, don’t feel any shame in this. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances in the world, and to successfully quit, you may need some form of support.