Quitting smoking can be a daunting endeavor – anyone who’s ever tried it can attest to that. This is because nicotine – the key ingredient in tobacco that leads to addiction – rewires the brain to such an extent that the most severe withdrawal symptoms can resemble those that heavy drug addicts go through when they are weaning themselves from what society perceives to be much worse drugs.
However, most researchers and physicians agree that nicotine is just as addictive as heroin or cocaine and people get’ hooked’ on nicotine in a similar way they get hooked on other drugs.
Effects of nicotine on human body:
- Alters mood
- Produces a sensation of well-being and calm
- Fights depression and anxiety
- Reduces appetite
- Boosts short-term memory and concentration
It’s important to know what to expect once you decide to smoke your last cigarette. Not being prepared can seriously diminish your chances of succeeding.
Nicotine withdrawal symptoms vary and will depend on how long and how much you’ve smoked.
Common nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:
- Nicotine cravings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Depression and anxiety
- Tingling sensation in hands and feet
- Nausea, vomiting and cramping
- Sore throat
- Weight gain
Nicotine Withdrawal Timeline
Most of these symptoms will peak during the second or the third day into the cessation process. Not everyone who stops smoking will experience all of them – in fact, most people will have the toughest time fighting cravings, irritability, and difficulties concentrating so they might not even notice the rest.
The first 72 hours are the worst for most smokers so let’s focus on them.
- 4 hours after a cigarette – Your body is signaling that it’s time for a cigarette. Nicotine in your system has dropped by 90 % and you will start filling fidgety. This is when the craving starts. Instead of yielding to temptation, try focusing on something else – clean the house, iron all your shirts, or go out for a jog. The craving for nicotine will pass but you will have to steel yourselves for when it starts again.
- 10 hours after a cigarette – You already have a number of craving episodes behind you but it’s time to get ready for bed. Some people will start experiencing unusual hunger at this point – this is because your blood sugar levels are lower than usual and it’s common to experience hunger in this period. You might also start feeling a tingling sensation in your hands and feet – circulation is returning to normal and it’s nothing to be alarmed by. Drink plenty of water, tuck yourself in and prepare to ride it out. Most smokers cave at this point – it’s easier to smoke a cigarette than to face a sleepless night. It’s essential that you buckle up – after this hurdle, every other night without a cigarette will be easier.
- 24 hours after a cigarette – This will be a tough awakening. Depending on your smoking habits you might get an urge to light a cigarette as soon as you open your eyes. Fight it. Have something to eat and drink plenty of fluids – avoid coffee, tea, or any other beverage that might serve as a trigger. It’s also important to give yourself some time to process everything. You will likely be irritable and anxious – this is because your body is running on 0 nicotine at this point. Try to start a new routine. Jog, knit, write, or do anything else that is easy to do once you get an urge to light a cigarette.
- 48 hours after a cigarette – One day left and the worst is over. At this point, you might start experiencing depression or anxiety – all normal as you brain chemistry starts to get accustomed to the lack of nicotine. Headaches might be a slight issue but these should go away in the next 24 hours. Cravings are still constant and someone who was an average smoker will experience at least 4-6 episodes per day. Remind yourself of why you’re doing this and have your alternative on standby if the cravings get too difficult to manage (wear your running gear to work, have a notebook ready, and keep that ball of yarn and your needles close).
- 72 hours after a cigarette – Cravings are subsiding considerably and their duration time should not exceed five minutes for every episode. Entertain your mind during those 5 minutes and occupy yourself with something other than thinking about a cigarette and cravings will subside. Some people, especially heavy smokers, might experience a sore throat and excessive coughing. This is because your body is ridding itself of tar coating and growing new tissue. This is often accompanied by tightness in the chest that is caused by coughing.
- 7 – 21 days – Occasional cravings for nicotine still strike every day but they are manageable for the most part. It’s important to recognize them for what they are and to remind yourselves that lighting a cigarette would not only make matters worse, it would set you back considerably – back square one, to be exact. Most people notice that their appetite is increased but their levels of energy seem to be lower. If it happens to you it’s because your metabolism is beginning to normalize and your blood sugar levels are dropping. Both flatulence and constipation might occur because intestinal movements are also slowing down.
More than 70% of smokers who decide to quit will experience nicotine cravings and increased appetite. These symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are the most persistent ones and can last for more than 4 weeks.
Around 60% of people will suffer from anxiety, depression, poor concentration, or irritability – these mental symptoms can last up to 4 weeks but will gradually subside. If they persist, we advise you to talk to your doctor about them.
The scenario described above applies to smokers who decide to quit without assistance. Assistance, in this case, means nicotine replacement therapy. Of course, not everyone has the stamina or willpower to go through this and that’s perfectly alright. Smokers determined to quit the habit have a lot of nicotine replacement options at their disposal. If you decide to use them make sure you talk it out with your doctor and follow the instructions.
Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal will not be so prominent if your body is getting nicotine from sources other than a cigarette. NTR should be used as needed as there is a danger of substituting one addiction with another. After 8 to 12 weeks you should start lowering the dose of nicotine you are administering to yourself until you’re completely nicotine-free.