Quitting smoking is an incredibly tough thing to do. Most people who are attempting to quit have developed a physical dependence on tobacco, and thus will experience terrible withdrawal symptoms from ending the habit. This is not the only thing that makes it hard, as cigarettes are kind of everywhere, much the same way alcohol is.
From your local corner shop to the supermarket in the center of town, there are many places that have cigarettes behind the counter waiting to be bought. Sometimes, you will even find cigarette vending machines occupying spaces in train or bus stations.
As such, temptation is everywhere and even if you are not tempted, the stories you will hear about quitting smoking and what happens to your body, may make you pause before attempting it. Some of these are rumors, others are proven facts and while most are beneficial in the long run, it is the short term that people are concerned about.
For example, constipation. Is it a real symptom of nicotine withdrawal? Or is it just a rumor that people have been spreading? In this article, we will look at what happens to your bowels when you quit smoking and what you can do to ease the process.
Constipation As A Symptom
To answer the question quickly, yes, stopping smoking can cause constipation and in fact it is the most common symptom. The reason is that one of the ingredients in tobacco is nicotine. Nicotine is a naturally made alkaloid that is used recreationally and medicinally. The alkaloid is highly addictive and works as a stimulant, meaning it stimulates parts of the body, which includes making you feel a little high.
However, this isn’t the only thing it can stimulate, the other is the gut and bowels. This wouldn’t be bad if it was once in a while, but regular smokers make their bodies more acclimatized to the nicotine and therefore a stimulant in their body. The more they smoke, the more the body gets used to these chemicals flooding its system until the body develops a chemical dependency on the drug.
A chemical dependency means that an organism can’t function properly without a constant flow of a certain chemical, in this case nicotine, and goes through withdrawal when denied that chemical. In the case of nicotine and the bowel, cutting out nicotine after developing a chemical dependency on it means denying the bowel that stimulant you’ve been feeding it.
The bowel and colon then stop working properly and are unable to properly excrete waste, thus giving the person in this situation constipation. Other symptoms that may accompany constipation are stomach cramps and nausea, but as the body relearns to do things without the stimulating nature of nicotine, then these symptoms will fade along with the constipation.
If you are experiencing constipation as a symptom of quitting smoking, then it may be time to look at other ways to aid your digestive tract in doing its job. There are plenty of products on the market and many foods that might kick-start your digestion into gear.
How Long Will It Last?
It is hard to say how long the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal will last, but often it is a long time. The standard range for those quitting smoking to experience symptoms afterwards is between 8 and 12 weeks.
Breaking a chemical dependency is a long process, and it will take time for your body to adjust. Even for little amounts of chemically dependent products, like coffee, it can take time for the body to relieve itself of its dependency.
This does not mean you will be constipated for that period of time, but you may experience withdrawal symptoms consistently or inconsistently throughout that time. You could be fine one week and then feel terrible the next, and you may even be hit by recurring bouts, but if you keep on top of it and plan for the worst of the effects, you should be able to manage it well.
Other Physical Side Effects Of Nicotine Withdrawal
Constipation isn’t the only side effect you may experience with nicotine withdrawal, it is only the most common. As with any addiction, the more dependent your body is on a substance, the more difficult it will be to break away from it.
Most of the physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are experienced within the digestive tract. These can happen once or twice with one or two symptoms, or they can happen all at once with many symptoms that seem to contradict one another.
Along with constipation, you may also experience severe cramps, which is a muscle contraction that happens in your stomach. These can be quite painful and more commonly are triggered by something you have eaten, however this time it is more your body depending on you to consume nicotine.
Nausea and bloating are also quite common. With your digestive tract not as stimulated as before, you start backing up and this in turn causes bloating, whereas nausea, the feeling of being sick or loss of equilibrium, is a reaction to the loss of nicotine and possibly the stress caused by nicotine withdrawal.
The other symptoms that are experienced in the digestive tract are sweating and cold or flu like symptoms. These all come about as your body’s systems have to function without nicotine and so, in a way, you become somewhat ill, though these are not nearly as common as constipation itself.
Psychological Side Effects Of Nicotine Withdrawal
The physical side effects seem bad, but it is the psychological side effects that cause the most issues for people in their day-to-day life. Nicotine withdrawal can leave you incredibly anxious, irritable, and even cause you to develop insomnia for the period of the withdrawal.
Anxiety is best described as an intense and consistent fear or worry about the events that have happened to you. These events can be as mundane as anything else, but one thing about them is making you worry, and the constant worry is making you stressed and causing more anxiety.
Irritability is your lack of ability to deal with others, objects, or situations at that moment. Those who haven’t slept well would also be irritable, due to the lack of sleep shortening their fuse significantly. The more you are withdrawing, the less able you are to deal with things around you in a reasonable manner.
Insomnia is the inability to sleep for short periods of time or at all. Humans need sleep, so if you are struggling to sleep, you will have problems in your ability to function, to socialize, to basically do anything.
As you can see, the psychological side effects are somewhat unpleasant, and they all intertwine with each in causing other symptoms to worsen. For example, the less you sleep, the more irritable you are, the more irritable you are, the more anxious you become about your interactions, the more anxious you are, the less you sleep, and so on.
Other Factors That Cause Constipation When Quitting Smoking
There are a couple of other factors that can actually affect how bad your constipation is throughout this withdrawal period. This is because even though nicotine is a contributing factor to your bowel movements when you have a chemical dependence on it, it is not the most important.
The first thing that can cause constipation when quitting smoking is having a sedentary lifestyle. If you don’t move all day and have just given up smoking, then you will probably experience constipation. Even just a little bit of exercise throughout the day increases your metabolism and helps your body’s digestive tract move and work better.
Diet can also play a huge role in whether your body suffers from constipation during this period. If your diet is poor in fiber or easy to digest foods, then you will most likely suffer from constipation when quitting. Eating the wrong thing not only makes us feel worse, but also makes it more difficult for our gut to do its job and can lead to digestive problems.
How To Avoid Constipation When Quitting
If you are truly ready to give up smoking and are not put off by the side effects or withdrawal symptoms, then I commend you. I would also say that there are things that can be done to avoid these awful outcomes, or at least lessen their impact.
The first is a change in diet. I know most people eat quite healthily, but I also know that many of us still have that secret packet of Pringles on a Sunday night while watching movies. If you want to beat constipation, it’s time to ditch the chips and eat foods that are much healthier and full of fiber. This means more leafy greens, fruits, leaner protein – like chicken –, legumes, and whole grains.
If you are changing your diet, you might drink more water as well. It will help keep your system running and will make your poops easier to push out.
Relaxation is also key to maintaining your bowel’s function during this time. Most people use nicotine to relax after work or blow off steam on a quick break. Without that people become more stressed and more stress equals more unhappy bowels. Take a few minutes each day to collect yourself and do something that you know will relax you. If you do, you may find that you urgently need the toilet, when you were constipated before.
Activity is a sure-fire way to get your bowels moving in a positive way. Exercise is one of the cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle and by doing at least 30 minutes to an hour’s activity every day, you ensure not only that your gut is feeling better, but you are feeling better mentally too. In fact, exercise has been proven to increase dopamine levels and make people feel less stressed.
If you are really struggling with withdrawal, and it is starting to affect your life, then you may need to consult a professional. There is absolutely no shame in this, and they can help you more than you know.
There are two prescription medicines that help with constipation and nausea as the side effects of nicotine withdrawal. These are Chantix and Zyban. If you wish to use these, consult your doctor and look up the potential side effects before you do.
Quitting smoking is hard, really hard, and feeling chained to the toilet by a desperate desire to eventually vacate your bowels does not help. There are many other symptoms, but with constipation being the most common, it is a constant thorn in the sides of those who want to quit. However, if you take the advice in this article, it doesn’t have to be as bad as it could be.
By changing your lifestyles, even if briefly, to a more active one with a more balanced diet, you should be able to come out the other side with your dependence on cigarettes manageable and life easy to live.