Most people who are trying to cease their smoking habits are familiar with splitting headaches and other nicotine withdrawal symptoms. The thought of experiencing minor to severe nicotine withdrawal symptoms is enough to discourage some people from quitting cold turkey, especially because this can lead to worse symptoms.
But not everyone will experience nicotine withdrawals the same way.
What Are Withdrawals?
When you’ve been doing something for a long time, it becomes more than a habit – it becomes a lifestyle. Lifestyles are difficult to change so when you do try to stop or make a change, you’ll most likely feel like you miss something and that experience is known as withdrawal.
Nicotine withdrawal is more than just the physical symptoms. It also involves some mental and emotional symptoms, like anxiety or depression. Don’t worry, it’s only a temporary situation. Preparation is the key to getting through even the worst of it.
Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
Symptoms can differ from person to person, and can depend on many factors. Some common symptoms include:
One of the most challenging and persistent symptoms is the urge to smoke. This is because when you received nicotine, your brain would release dopamine, a hormone that makes you feel good. Once you stop that, your body will crave something that releases those happy hormones again.
The good thing about cravings is that they don’t tend to last a long time. Keep yourself busy by chewing nicotine gum or distracting yourself with other things, but try to avoid things that will trigger the cravings like drinking or being around other people who smoke.
It’s an interesting connection, but when you smoke, your hunger is reduced due to the serotonin and dopamine found in cigarettes. When you’re no longer smoking cigarettes, you’ll want to eat more, especially carbs and sweets. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself gaining 5-10 pounds within the first two weeks of quitting.
- Trouble Sleeping or Fatigue
Sleep problems are a common symptom of nicotine withdrawal. As mentioned earlier, dopamine regulation is disrupted and dopamine does more than help us feel good. Dopamine is also a hormone which aids in sleep regulation.
Even if you’re coughing more after you stop smoking, it’s actually a good sign. Persistent coughing means that your lungs are getting better. When you smoke, the lining, called cilia, in your lungs become immobilized and flattened, but when you cease smoking, the cilia returns to its regular state and function. As your lungs get better, toxic deposits from smoking gets pushed out through coughing.
- The Flu?
Flu-like symptoms are also a common side effect of nicotine withdrawals, sometimes known as “quitter’s flu.” Symptoms usually last for a couple of days as your body gets used to the new state it’s in and can include a mild fever, coughing, and body aches, including the infamous nicotine withdrawal headaches and dizziness.
- Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral
You might notice that you’re more irritable or easily stressed out, but this is normal. After you stop your nicotine intake, your endocrine (hormonal) and central nervous symptoms become dysregulated, causing extreme changes in mood. You might also notice that your memory has become effected and experience some difficulty concentrating or dizziness.
Besides the effects to your lungs, brain, and other systems mentioned, you can also get, yes, constipated. If you suddenly stop smoking, you might alter the mobility and contraction of your digestive tract. Constipation may last one to two weeks.
Drink plenty of water and eat more fiber to help your bowel movements.
Nicotine Withdrawal Timeline
You might be wondering, how long does nicotine withdrawal last. It generally lasts about a month. The first week is the worst – and when you’ll experience the most severe nicotine withdrawal symptoms, specifically the physical things like the cravings, headaches, and insomnia. There’s a positive side to the symptoms; it means that your body is getting rid of the nicotine.
After that, the positive symptoms will start going away, even if the emotional symptoms are still there. You might feel anxiety, depression, and/or irritability for a few more weeks until you get over the withdrawals.
- Within 1 hour – you’ll start to crave another cigarette.
- Within 10 hours – you’ll start to feel restless as you try to distract yourself from having another cigarette.
- Within 24 hours – you might feel a little irritable and hungry.
- Within 2 days – headaches will come on as the nicotine leaves your system.
- Within 3 days – there shouldn’t be any more nicotine in your body as your cravings lessen, but you might begin to feel more anxious.
- Within 2-4 weeks – you might feel unenergized, but the fogginess should be clearing up and your appetite might become more regular. Other mental and emotional symptoms should also start to improve.
- 5 weeks on – most of your symptoms should be gone by now, but you just have to motivate yourself to keep going.
Nicotine Withdrawal Treatments
Discuss ways to manage your withdrawal symptoms with your doctor. They might suggest over the counter nicotine replacement medications, like nicotine gum, or vape kits if they're allowed in your country. They may also provide you information about support groups in your community or prescribe nicotine replacements. Nicotine replacements can help lessen the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal as they help you to slowly decrease your nicotine intake.
Getting over nicotine withdrawals is often very difficult, but with some preparation and determination, you’ll be sure to overcome the challenge.