Nicotine Withdrawal

Nicotine withdrawal is the physical and psychological symptoms you feel as nicotine leaves your body (Cleveland Clinic). Nicotine withdrawal occurs because nicotine leaves your body. Nicotine binds to certain receptors in your brain. It causes your brain to release chemicals called dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is a “feel good” neurohormone. Serotonin is called your body’s natural “feel good” chemical (Cleveland Clinic). Because your brain craves for those substances you will go through the withdrawal symptoms.  Nicotine is a highly addictive drug. 

When you cut back or quit using products that contain it you may feel some uncomfortable symptoms.  Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are mental, emotional, and physical. Side effects of quitting smoking suddenly are more intense than when you would lower your nicotine intake amount. 

Treatment for overcoming nicotine addiction includes nicotine replacement therapy, other medications, non-drug remedies and coping strategies. Nicotine withdrawal lasts 2 – 4 weeks. The hardest are days 3- 5, when nicotine leaves the system.  The timeline if you wish to quit smoking depends on your previous nicotine intake and if you plan to quit cold turkey(shorter) or lower your nicotine intake(longer). 

1. Fatigue

The first nicotine withdrawal symptom is fatigue. Fatigue is a condition marked by extreme tiredness and inability to function due to the lack of energy. Nicotine is a stimulant drug and gives you energy. So, when you are not using it, you will feel more tired. 

2. Constipation

The second nicotine withdrawal symptom is constipation. Constipation is a condition in which there is difficulty in emptying the bowels, usually associated with hardened feces. Because nicotine promotes the movement of feces through the intestinal tract, withdrawal from it causes difficulty with bowel movements, as stated by Medical News Today (2022). You should contact a doctor if constipation symptoms do not disappear with self-care.

3. Headaches and Dizziness

The third nicotine withdrawal symptoms are headaches and dizziness. Headache is a continuous pain in the head. Dizziness is a sensation of spinning around and losing balance. These are usually the first symptoms to appear and the first to go away. Those nicotine withdrawal symptoms are usually the mildest symptoms. You must contact a doctor when these nicotine withdrawal symptoms get too serious or start interfering with your daily life.

4. Coughing

The fourth nicotine withdrawal symptom is coughing. Coughing is expelling air from the lungs with a sudden sharp sound. Coughing more than usual is a sign your body is starting to heal from the impacts of nicotine as stated by May Clinic. Tobacco smoke paralyzes and destroys some of the tiny hair-like structures in the airways called cilia. Because of that the cilia that remain have trouble sweeping mucus out of the lungs. When you quit smoking, the cilia regrow and become active again. You might cough more than usual as they recover and help move the mucus out of your lungs. This lasts for a few weeks or up to a year. The cough often goes away on its own. If the cough lasts longer than a month, you need to contact your doctor.

5. Cravings for Nicotine

The fifth nicotine withdrawal symptom is craving for nicotine. Cravings for nicotine are defined as persistent urges, thoughts or desires to consume nicotine by Cambridge Dictionary. The cravings will get easier after 3-5 days. But this symptom of nicotine withdrawal will last for the longest, usually the craving will last around 20 minutes. Because your body wants to feel the release of dopamine and serotonin it will send you messages(cravings) to use nicotine products. To overcome this symptom of nicotine withdrawal, try to avoid other people who consume nicotine products or other triggers. 

6. Appetite

The sixth nicotine withdrawal symptom is appetite. Appetite is defined as the feeling that you want to eat food. Using nicotine makes your body produce serotonin and dopamine, which reduce the feeling of hunger. Now when your body is no longer producing serotonin and dopamine as much you are feeling hungrier. This symptom will last 2-4 weeks (Canadian Lung Association). It is important to snack healthily at this period so you would not gain weight.

7. Irritated

The seventh nicotine withdrawal symptom is feeling irritated. Irritated means feeling annoyed or angry as stated by the Cambridge Dictionary.  Nicotine addiction leads to your body craving for nicotine and anything else satisfactory (Canadian Lung Association). Thys symptom of nicotine withdrawal will last for 2-4 weeks.

8. Restless

The eighth nicotine withdrawal symptom is being restless. Being restless means that you are unwilling or unable to be quiet and calm. This symptom of nicotine withdrawal happens because the brain is used to getting stimulation from nicotine (Canadian Lung Association). The brain needs to get used to functioning without the effects of nicotine. This symptom of nicotine withdrawal will last 2-4 weeks. Contact a doctor when it lasts longer.

9. Lack of Concentration

The ninth nicotine withdrawal symptom is lack of concentration. Lack of concentration is defined as not being able to think carefully about something you are doing by Cambridge Dictionary. This symptom of nicotine withdrawal happens because the brain is used to getting stimulation from nicotine (Canadian Lung Association). The brain needs to get used to being alert without the effects of nicotine. This symptom of nicotine withdrawal will last 2-4 weeks. Contact a doctor when it lasts longer.

10. Trouble sleeping

The tenth nicotine withdrawal symptom is trouble sleeping. Trouble sleeping means it is hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep. “Nicotine has a stimulating effect, but it also has an overall mood-modulating effect,” says Amanda Holm, M.P.H., tobacco treatment manager at Henry Ford Health. Smoking helps keep you stable throughout the day, which can become a problem when you quit (Henry Ford Health). Since your body is getting used to the lack of dopamine and serotonin from nicotine usage the chemical balance will be a bit off. That causes trouble with sleeping.

11. Feeling Hungry

The eleventh nicotine withdrawal symptom is feeling hungry. Hunger is defined as the feeling you have when you need to eat by Cambridge Dictionary. Using nicotine makes your body produce serotonin and dopamine, which reduce the feeling of hunger. Now when your body is no longer producing serotonin and dopamine as much you are feeling hungrier. This symptom will last 2-4 weeks (Canadian Lung Association). It is important to snack healthily at this period so you would not gain weight.

12. Anxious and Depressed

The twelfth nicotine withdrawal symptom is being anxious and depressed. Anxious is defined as being worried or nervous. Depressed is defined as unhappy or without hope by Cambridge Dictionary. Using nicotine makes your body produce serotonin and dopamine, which are both feel good hormones. So, you should do some healthier activities to naturally boost the production of these substances (running, yoga, reading, sex). These nicotine withdrawal symptoms should end in a month. Contact a doctor if they last longer. 

What is Nicotine Withdrawal?

Nicotine withdrawal is the physical and psychological symptoms you feel as nicotine leaves your body (Cleveland Clinic). Nicotine withdrawal occurs because nicotine leaves your body. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are physical, emotional and mental. The symptoms usually last for 2 – 4 weeks. The hardest part of nicotine withdrawal is on the third day. Nicotine withdrawal is different for everybody and depends how much nicotine they previously consumed. The more nicotine you consumed the harder the withdrawal.

Why Nicotine Withdrawal Occurs?

 Nicotine withdrawal occurs because nicotine leaves your body. Nicotine sticks to certain receptors in your brain.  It causes your brain to release chemicals called dopamine and serotonin (Cleveland Clinic). Dopamine is a “feel good” neurohormone. Serotonin is called your body’s natural “feel good” chemical. When you do not use nicotine-containing products, your brain’s receptors are no longer stimulated by nicotine. Stopping the use of nicotine disrupts the chemical balance, causing withdrawal symptoms

How to Cope with Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms?

The 4 Ds to cope with nicotine withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Delay: for a few minutes and the urge will pass. Cravings come and go quickly. The average craving only lasts about five to ten minutes. No matter how strong the craving is, convince yourself that you can wait ten minutes.
  • Drink water: sip it slowly. Drinking water helps flush the toxins out of your system, and it will help keep your hands and mouth busy.
  • Deep breathe: take three slow, deep breaths. Deep breathing will help you relax and make the craving dissipate.
  • Do something else: to take your mind off smoking. Many smokers have said that when they get an urge to smoke and make the effort to change their surrounding environment, they get distracted and actually forget they wanted to smoke.

(Printed in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 2003)

Read more about nicotine replacement therapy.

How long does nicotine stay in your system?

Nicotine stays in your body for 1 to 3 days after you stop using nicotine products as stated by WebMD. Nicotine will not be detectable in your urine after 3 to 4 days of stopping the usage of nicotine products. 

What are the best ways to quit smoking?

The best ways to quit smoking are listed below:

  • Try nicotine replacement therapy – contact your doctor for advice on it.
  • Avoid triggers – stressors.
  • Delay – the craving will pass.
  • Chew on it- keep your mouth busy to get your mind off of nicotine.
  • Don’t have ‘just one’ – it never stops with one with this mindset.
  • Get physical – help distract you from tobacco cravings and produce natural dopamine.
  • Try relaxation techniques – deep breathing, muscle relaxation, yoga, visualization, pilates, massage or listening to calming music.
  • Call for reinforcements – connect with a family member, friend or support group member for help to resist a tobacco craving.
  • Go online for support – online support groups and chat rooms.
  • Remind yourself of the benefits – health, saving money, saving your loved ones from second hand smoke.

How does nicotine affect the body?

Nicotine affects the body in two ways: stimulates and calms it. Nicotine is a stimulating drug that speeds up the signals from the brain to the body, it increases the heart rate and the amount of oxygen that the heart consumes.  Nicotine is also a relaxing drug that causes the feeling of well-being. Nicotine is anxiolytic that means it reduces anxiety, often caused by stress. When using nicotine repeatedly possible result are: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, reduction of body weight, enhancement of performance, protection against: Parkinson’s, Tourette’s and Alzheimer’s disease, defense against ulcerative colitis and sleep apnea, increase in blood pressure, flow of blood to the heart, heart rate and a narrowing of the arteries.

Read more about the health effects of nicotine pouch.

What happens when you quit smoking and start vaping?

When you quit smoking and start vaping you stop inhaling burnt tobacco smoke. Vaping is healthier than normal smoking when it comes to tobacco. But when you vape you still inhale harmful chemicals and your close ones are in danger of secondhand smoking. 

Read more about what is a vape.

Is it Okay if I Quit Smoking Immediately?

Yes, it is okay if you quit smoking immediately. The side effects of quitting smoking suddenly are a bit harder when doing it gradually. At the same time side effects of quitting smoking suddenly will last for a shorter time period than when you would do it gradually. 

Are Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal Temporary?

Yes, symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are temporary. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms last from a few days up to several weeks. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms will get a little better every day, the third day will be the hardest.

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