Nicotine withdrawal symptoms - information on possible withdrawal symptoms.
When you give up smoking you may or may not experience a number of withdrawal symptoms, such as those outlined below. If you were very dependent on nicotine, the withdrawal effects may be more in number and greater in severity.
If you know what to expect, you are halfway on the road to coping with these withdrawal symptoms and have more chances of not giving in to them. This will also help you to decide on the best way to give up smoking, which method you are going to use and how you are going to cope in times of temptation.
In this section we are going to discuss each of the withdrawal symptoms that you may experience after stopping smoking, why they occur and how to lessen and combat them. You could also re-read our section
on the health effects of smoking, in order to remind yourself of the consequences of continuing to smoke. Bearing that information in mind should help to prevent you from relapsing and keep you on the right road to becoming a non-smoker.
Within about 20 minutes of smoking your last cigarette, you will begin to apprehend a small craving or urge to smoke another cigarette. This is your brain gently reminding you that it is time to smoke and get your fix of nicotine before the physical symptoms of withdrawal set in. At this time the nicotine levels in the body are falling and those levels must be maintained for us to feel good and normal.
Usually, when we start to feel these cravings, we relieve them by smoking a cigarette. If we are unable to smoke at the time, these cravings get stronger and stronger in intensity and we may become angry, irritable and lose concentration until we are able to smoke again.
Once you give up smoking though, you will have to fight against these urges and cravings to smoke. More will be discussed on this matter in the following sections.
Everyone that gives up smoking will go through a different experience from the next person. Some people may suffer from terrible withdrawal symptoms whilst others may only experience a few of the symptoms mentioned in the next section. It is probably fair to say that the more dependant you were on cigarettes and the greater number of cigarettes smoked, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms are likely to be.
The nicotine withdrawal symptoms will be the strongest and most intense around 24 - 48 hours after giving up. They will start shortly after smoking your last cigarette and will begin to ease off after 72 hours more or less. However, they will not completely disappear until two to three weeks have passed, possibly longer, depending on the person. Nevertheless you will still probably have the occasional urge to smoke a cigarette and this may never go away.
Even though you may experience many withdrawal symptoms that probably seem unbearable at the time, this is just the response of your body as it heals itself and recovers from years of cigarette smoking.
All the same, going through the physical withdrawal of nicotine and the symptoms that you may suffer, is only temporary and will not last forever. At worst, what is a month of withdrawal symptoms that will subside each day but lead to you finally becoming a healthier person and a non-smoker for good, as opposed to possibly dying an early death after suffering years of living with cancer or lung disease?
In short, if you know what to expect and are well equipped beforehand, you should be able to prepare yourself mentally to deal with the withdrawal symptoms as they occur. They might not even be as bad as you thought they would be.
See below to find out exactly what you could be going through once you stop smoking, in terms of physical withdrawal symptoms and how you can best deal with them.
Anger and anxiety
Once you have given up smoking you may feel very irritable and angry at first. You might snap at family and friends for the slightest reason and may not be a very nice person to be around for the first couple of weeks. These types of feelings are common, as giving up smoking is a huge change and big step in your life. This is a reaction to you losing something that was important to you and that you depended on every day. It is as if you have lost a best friend, someone that has been with you through thick and thin. Obviously, not being able to smoke when you probably really want to, is going to make you anxious, nervous and not in a very good mood.
Before you stop smoking it would be a good idea to tell all close friends and family when you are giving up, so that they also know what to expect and do not take much notice of your bad moods.
During the first few weeks after stopping, try to relax as much as possible and do things that you enjoy and make you happy. Try to keep stress out of your life during this period, as it will only make things worse. If you feel yourself getting irritable, take a walk, take a few deep breaths, practise some energetic sport or listen to relaxing music, anything to take your mind away from cigarettes.
Coughing and mucus
Once you have stopped smoking, it is not uncommon to develop a cough that may persist for a couple of weeks. As well as a cough, you could also bring up quite a bit of mucus. According to Ward's study on the "abstinence effects" from giving up smoking, 60% of ex-smokers reported coughing on the second day, 48% after the first week and 15% within a month after giving up.
Again, this is perfectly normal and actually a good thing. The cilla, or hairs that protect the lungs are ridding themselves of all the tar and toxins that have built up and coated the lungs over the number of years that you have smoked. The mucus is all the rubbish that is finally being loosened and brought up and out of the body.
Although it may take several months for the lungs to fully clear themselves and for the cough to eventually disappear, afterwards you will find breathing much easier and feel extremely fitter.
Drinking water and sucking boiled sweets may help to ease the cough, loosen the mucus in your lungs, keep your throat moist and flush the toxins out of your system.
As soon as you give up smoking you may start to get a few headaches, which can be quite common in most people. These headaches may be caused by a number of reasons and you may experience them for up to two weeks. First of all, as a smoker, there is less oxygen available in the blood. This is because the oxygen is replaced by carbon monoxide and other chemicals that are contained in tobacco smoke.
Oxygen is needed to keep the body working properly and it is carried to the brain and other parts of the body. Once you stop smoking, your oxygen levels will gradually return to normal and the higher levels of oxygen may result in headaches and also dizziness. Other reasons for the headaches may be due to the stress of giving up, sleeping disturbances, diet changes or an increase in caffeine levels, which are all directly related to giving up smoking and the effect that this has on the body.
If you experience any type of headache, half an aspirin should do the trick, but beforehand try to relieve the tension by carrying out a few deep breathing exercises, drinking a glass of water, taking a relaxing bath, going for a gentle walk in the fresh air or lying down for 15 minutes or so. As a last resort take the aspirin.
If you are used to drinking a lot of coffee, you should note that once you have given up smoking, you will only need to drink half the amount of coffee that you are used to in order to get the same effect, as without the nicotine, your body actually absorbs much more of the caffeine. In fact, too much caffeine could be causing the headache.
Insomnia and disturbed sleep
Your sleeping patterns may be affected once you stop smoking. In some cases you could find that you are sleeping more than you were before, whilst in others you may find it difficult to get to sleep and wake up frequently during the night.
Again, this is a temporary side effect and should not last longer than two weeks, maybe less, by which time your sleeping patterns should have returned to normal.
Difficulties in sleeping will occur due to the absence of nicotine in the brain. Furthermore, lack of sleep will affect your moods in the daytime and also leave you feeling tired and drained.
If you do have problems getting to sleep try the following methods to relax you in the evening before going to bed:
- Reduce your caffeine intake or better still cut it out altogether for a few weeks.
- Drink a cup of warm milk, cocoa or relaxing herbal tea shortly before going to bed.
- Do not sleep or nap during the day.
- Practice some form of exercise early in the evening to tire yourself out.
- Listen to some relaxing and soothing music in bed.
- Read in bed.
- Have a warm relaxing bath before bedtime.
- Try some meditation and deep breathing exercises.
- Try to get plenty of fresh air and if possible go for long walks.
Nicotine is a stimulant that helps most smokers concentrate and keeps them alert and awake. Once the nicotine is removed from the body you may find it hard to concentrate for long and you will feel tired and fatigued, as the nicotine is no longer stimulating your brain or your body. Nicotine cravings will also draw your attention away from the task at hand and make it difficult to concentrate, as will any other physical withdrawal symptoms that you may be experiencing.
To combat this, take regular short breaks from what you are doing, try to eat healthy energising foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, drink lots of water to keep the brain hydrated, exercise or keep active and get plenty of fresh air.
As with all of the other symptoms, your concentration levels should return to normal within several weeks.
If you suddenly feel tired all the time since giving up smoking, do not worry. This is just another side effect of your body adjusting to the lack of nicotine. Nicotine speeds up your metabolism to an unnaturally high level, which means that without the nicotine, your metabolism has to slow down and adjust. This will cause your energy levels to drop, but this is only temporary and they will soon return to normal.
To boost your energy levels, avoid sugary and processed foods, drink lots of water, snack on seeds, nuts or dried fruit, go for a short but brisk walk if you are feeling tired, take a break from what you are doing and relax and make sure that you eat a good healthy breakfast, which will keep you going at least through the morning.
After a couple of weeks you should find that you actually have more energy than before, as your body will now be much healthier, you will receive more oxygen, which will flow to all parts of your body.
As well as stimulating the brain, nicotine also acts as a stimulant on the digestive system. Most smokers find that they go to the toilet very regularly and do not usually suffer from constipation. This is because nicotine has a laxative effect.
When you give up smoking you may find that you are not as regular as before and may even suffer from bouts of constipation.
Your body is likely to adjust to working properly and at a normal level without nicotine after a few weeks.
During this time, to avoid suffering from constipation, try to eat fibre-rich foods and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables; prunes are good, drink 8 glasses of water a day and carry out some gentle exercise to stimulate your bowels. Some say that eating chocolate helps too.
Increased appetite and hunger
Yes, unfortunately, once you stop smoking you will probably eat more and gain a slight amount of weight if you are not careful. This doesn't mean that you are going to put on two stone and go up two dress sizes and it should not be a reason to continue smoking.
The extra weight that you gain can easily be lost by watching what you eat, following a healthy and balanced diet and by taking up a form of exercise. After you stop smoking you should find that you actually have more energy after a few weeks, so exercising will not be such an agonizing task and you may even enjoy it.
Once you have stopped smoking, your metabolism will slow down to its normal rate, which means that you will burn calories a little slower. Exercise will help to burn extra calories and speed up your metabolism slightly.
Nicotine also suppresses your appetite, which is why smokers generally weigh 7 lbs less than non-smokers. Without the nicotine in your body, you will automatically feel more hungry.
You may find that you suddenly develop a sweet tooth once you have given up. To make sure that you do not pile on the pounds, try eating glucose tablets whenever you crave something sweet or drink fruit juice. Do not eat sugary processed pastries, cakes or chocolate as firstly you will put on weight and secondly the initial high you get from these foods will shortly turn into a low and leave you feeling tired and without energy. It is better to eat fruit, which contains sugar naturally and is released into the body over a longer period of time.
You can also try drinking lots of water to fill you up.
Your sense of taste and smell will also return to normal, which means that food will suddenly taste and smell delicious. Just be careful and watch what you eat. Buy a smaller dinner plate so that you don't overeat, eat three sensible and healthy meals a day and snack on fruit and nuts.
You may feel temporarily in a state of depression after giving up smoking. This is due to the fact that nicotine has antidepressant qualities. It releases dopamine into the brain, which is a chemical that makes us feel happy and content.
Once the nicotine is removed and the dopamine levels fall, you may have feelings of depression.
To combat this try to stay positive at all times and surround yourself with family and friends during difficult times. If you feel really bad, consult your doctor and asked to be prescribed with Zyban, an antidepressant that is being used to treat nicotine withdrawal.
After giving up smoking, your circulation will improve, as more of your smaller blood vessels will open up allowing more oxygen to flow through you body.
As a smoker, less oxygen would have been pumped to your fingers and toes, so as higher levels of oxygen now reach these parts of the body since giving up, you may start to feel a tingling sensation in these areas. This is nothing to worry about and just means that your body in gradually healing and repairing itself.
Now you know what to expect in terms of nicotine withdrawal symptoms, read the next
section to help you work out and plan the best method for you to stop smoking.