Nicotine Withdrawal: 7 Common Withdrawal Symptoms

Deciding to quit smoking is a fantastic choice for your health, but those first few weeks without nicotine can feel pretty rough.

Nicotine withdrawal hits everyone differently, and as your body and brain responds to the changing circumstances, things get uncomfortable.

Nicotine Withdrawal 7 Common Withdrawal Symptoms

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms will fade over time, while the harmful effects of smoking can have lifelong repercussions.

In this guide, we’ll cover what symptoms you can expect, and the best ways to deal with them. 

Nicotine Cravings

One of the most persistent symptoms you’re likely to experience after quitting smoking is nicotine cravings.

These cravings can often feel incredibly uncomfortable, and hard to fight. 

Nicotine cravings occur because the receptors in the brain are no longer receiving nicotine.

Without nicotine, the brain will stop sending out the hormone dopamine, which makes you feel good.

This will lead to the body desiring nicotine, so you can activate the chemical release.

Nicotine cravings are a physiological response, as your body struggles to deal with the loss of something it became tolerant to.

The longer you’ve smoked, and the frequency with which you smoked, will typically affect how strong these cravings are.

How To Manage

A nicotine craving will often last for around 10 minutes, and they can occur for several months after you’ve stopped smoking.

You may prefer to simply wait a craving out, and find something to distract yourself. A quick walk is often beneficial. Otherwise, you may prefer to use smoking aids such as nicotine gum.

Remember, these cravings will pass, even if they feel strong in the moment. 

Unexpected Mood Swings

Sudden feelings of stress and irritation are common symptoms of withdrawal.

These bouts can appear to be motivated by almost nothing. Behavior you might easily shrug off at other times suddenly becomes a source of much distress. 

These unexpected mood changes aren’t just an emotional response.

You may find them accompanied by a physiological change. For example, an increased heart rate and dizziness can be a side effect of a mood swing. 

Nicotine has an effect on the brain chemistry, and can alter emotions.

It’s why smokers often feel they can alleviate bad moods with a cigarette. With the nicotine gone, The brain chemistry has to adjust.

How To Manage

Mood swings tend to occur within a few days of quitting, and can last for around one month, with the worst hitting after a week.

These mood swings are only passing. Try deep breathing, or other techniques you feel are beneficial during moments of heightened stress. 

Difficulty Sleeping And Feelings Of Restlessness

Those who have quit smoking will often struggle with sleep.

This might present as insomnia, or a feeling of restlessness. Others will feel increasingly tired during the day, and may need a quick nap to clear away the tired feelings. 

Difficulty sleeping is linked to the altered brain chemistry smoking causes.

Without nicotine triggering the release of dopamine, sleep can become evasive. Within time, these symptoms can fade.

Difficulty sleeping can also worsen other withdrawal symptoms. Low moods and irritation can become worse from a lack of sleep.

How To Manage

Typical methods for improving sleep quality are still beneficial when tired nights are caused by nicotine withdrawal.

Removing screens, setting routine, and engaging in physical activity in the day should help. Consider cutting out caffeinated drinks in the afternoon, as caffeine can linger in the system when you quit smoking.

Remove nicotine patches at least an hour before bed, as these can keep you awake. 

Nicotine Withdrawal 7 Common Withdrawal Symptoms (2)

Struggling To Concentrate

Brain fog is a commonly reported side effect of nicotine withdrawal.

For the first few days to a week after quitting, concentrating can become very difficult.

As well as a shortened attention span, issues with memory and a slower response time are also common. 

The neurocognitive function can be greatly affected in the immediate aftermath of quitting.

This is likely to only last for a short amount of time. It can be made worse by other common nicotine withdrawal symptoms: insomnia and irritation.

How To Manage

Brain fog is frustrating, but the best thing you can do is go easy on yourself.

Piling on the pressure will only make it worse, as excess stress can also affect the ability to concentrate. 

If you can, try and reduce your workload for the days immediately after quitting. Brain fog symptoms should pass reasonably quickly.

Constipation And Gas

Nicotine affects many parts of the body, and nicotine withdrawal can be felt even in the digestive tract.

The lack of nicotine causes the contractions of the digestive tract to slow, often resulting in constipation and gas.  

This constipation can be affected by another symptom of nicotine withdrawal: hunger. Eating food to satisfy the cravings can further block the digestive tract. 

Constipation and gas is an uncomfortable symptom, and it affects a lot of people who quit suddenly.

These symptoms tend to fade after one or two weeks, but they can last for up to a month.

How To Manage

If you’re struggling from constipation and gas caused by nicotine withdrawal, it can be treated with over the counter medication.

Drinking plenty of water and eating lots of fiber can also help get things going.

If you’re struggling with increased hunger, try and satisfy your cravings with fiber rich food. 

Cold Or Flu-Like Symptoms

Immediately after quitting some people can feel like they’ve come down with the common cold.

This is sometimes known as ‘quitters flu’, and is a fairly normal side effect.

People report feeling run down, having a persistent cough, a nasal drip, a sore throat, and experiencing chest pressure.

This is simply the result of the body responding to a change.

Used to regularly receiving nicotine, the body activates the immune response when it has to go without. To most people, this will appear to be a cold.

How To Manage

The ‘quitters flu’ feels like the common cold, and can be treated in much the same way.

Get plenty of rest and fluids, and try some over the counter pain medication. 

Nicotine patches and other smoking aids can also help with reducing the symptoms.

This feeling of general malaise is likely to pass within a few days.

Feelings Of Anxiety And Depression

The mood changes and irritation commonly felt by those who quit smoking can sometimes manifest as depression and anxiety.

This is particularly likely in people who have already experienced depression.

For many, smoking can appear to alleviate low moods. However, all it’s actually doing is fighting a nicotine craving.

After suddenly quitting, these low moods can feel particularly low, especially as they can’t be ‘fixed’ with nicotine.

How To Manage

These feelings of depression won’t last forever, and many who quit smoking report feeling happier in the months after quitting.

But when you’re struggling, these low moods are tough to cope with. 

Try to be active and social, and find rewards to replace smoking throughout the day. You may want to speak to your health care provider

Final Thoughts

The effects of nicotine can be felt throughout the body, which should give you a good idea of exactly how much of an impact smoking has.

But nicotine withdrawal won’t last forever, and preparation and support can help you cope with the unpleasant effects.

In time, you’ll be able to see the true benefits of quitting. 

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