Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms (And How To Cope)

It’s no secret that quitting smoking isn’t easy. Cigarettes contain nicotine, which is incredibly addictive, and if you’ve built up a smoking habit over time then it’s difficult to break it.

Not only that, but when you first stop smoking you will have to deal with nicotine withdrawal – a set of physical and mental symptoms caused by the addictive substance leaving your body.

But while withdrawal symptoms can be hard to deal with, there are several methods you can use to make coping with nicotine withdrawal far more manageable. This helpful guide will take you through some of the best ways to deal with nicotine withdrawal symptoms, and show you that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

What Is Nicotine Withdrawal?

Before we get into the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and how to cope with them, let’s take a quick look at what nicotine withdrawal actually is.

Nicotine is an extremely addictive chemical found in cigarettes. When you ingest nicotine, it causes your brain to release endorphins called dopamine. Dopamine causes parts of the brain linked to feelings of pleasure and enjoyment to be activated, which is what makes nicotine so addictive.

When you quit smoking, your brain stops producing as much dopamine as a result. This throws off the chemical balance in your brain and causes several side effects, both mental and physical.  These side effects are known as withdrawal symptoms.

Because the brain has built up a dependency on nicotine to produce endorphins like dopamine, removing nicotine from your body will leave you with fewer endorphins and lead to the negative side effects associated with withdrawal symptoms. However, these issues are only temporary, and nicotine withdrawal symptoms are at their worst within the first week of you quitting.

What Are The Symptoms Of Nicotine Withdrawal?

Nicotine withdrawal is characterized by several symptoms. These symptoms are both physical and mental, and it’s common to experience multiple of these symptoms at once.

While they might be hard to deal with and feel unpleasant (particularly when you first stop smoking), none of these symptoms are dangerous to your health and they will pass in time. Here are some of the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Twitching
  • Stomach cramps and bloating
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up during the night
  • Increased appetite
  • Sweating
  • Digestive problems (such as constipation)

The physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal typically only last a couple of days to a week. This is because the nicotine needs some time to fully leave the body, and it will take a little while for your body to adjust.

Mental symptoms include:

  • Low mood and anxiety
  • Easily getting frustrated or irritated
  • Poor concentration
  • Mood swings 
  • Strong cravings for nicotine

Unlike the physical symptoms, the mental symptoms of nicotine withdrawal can last a lot longer. While these symptoms may be the hardest to deal with at first, particularly once the physical symptoms have lessened or worn off, the mental symptoms of nicotine withdrawal will lessen over time.

Ways To Cope With Withdrawal Symptoms

These symptoms are the main reason why many people find it so hard to quit smoking and fall back into the habit. The cravings for nicotine are especially difficult to deal with, because the addictive properties of nicotine (combined with how smoking is often a routine) make the habit hard to break.

That said, there are some simple things you can do to make dealing with nicotine withdrawal symptoms easier to cope with. Here are some of the best methods.

E-Cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes, such as vapes or other similar products, are a good way to cut down on the more harmful aspects of smoking while also reducing nicotine intake. These use e-liquids, which are flavored liquids that contain smaller amounts of nicotine than cigarettes. The liquid is converted into vapor and inhaled, which also helps replicate the physical sensation of smoking.

While e-cigarettes still contain nicotine, they don’t contain any of the other harmful substances found in cigarettes such as tar or paper smoke. E-liquids also come in a range of strengths including zero-nicotine options, so you can steadily cut down on your nicotine intake until you’re completely nicotine-free.

Something to bear in mind is that the long-term health risks of smoking e-cigarettes aren’t fully understood. So while it’s a great alternative to smoking regular cigarettes, you should try to find alternative solutions alongside or instead of smoking e-cigarettes.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (also known as NRT) is a similar coping method to smoking e-cigarettes, where a person replaces tobacco with an alternative product that contains smaller amounts of nicotine. 

But unlike e-cigarettes, NRT does away with the smoking aspect entirely, in favor of other, less harmful substitutes.

Some of the most common products used in NRT are skin patches, chewing gum, tablets, and throat or nasal sprays. These contain less nicotine than cigarettes, and are designed to reduce your nicotine intake on the go. 

Nicotine patches, for example, are designed to be applied directly onto the skin where they release nicotine into the body gradually. Meanwhile, nicotine gum gives you a more direct dose of nicotine while also curbing other withdrawal symptoms like increased appetite.

NRT is a great way to cut down on your nicotine intake without the possible negative side effects of smoking e-cigarettes. They are also a much better alternative to going ‘cold turkey’ and cutting nicotine out entirely in one go. 

Going cold turkey has its own negative health effects, and it is a lot easier to fall back into smoking without coping methods such as NRT.

Distract Yourself

While it might sound silly at first, keeping yourself distracted is a good way to cope with nicotine cravings. 

Most of the time, cravings for nicotine will only last around 15-20 minutes before subsiding. So while it can be hard to resist temptation while you’re having cravings, you can wait it out by keeping yourself distracted in the meantime.

Some simple ways to keep your brain occupied when you’re dealing with nicotine withdrawal are exercise, hobbies that you enjoy, and spending time with friends and family. Because cravings are temporary and are reduced the longer you go without nicotine, building up good habits early is one of the best ways to reduce withdrawal symptoms and avoid going back to smoking.

These won’t always be enough on their own, however, and you may need to supplement distractions with other coping mechanisms, at least while you’ve not long stopped smoking.

Medication

Medications can also be helpful. In a similar way to how NRT reduces the desire to smoke, medications are able to lessen and prevent both physical and mental symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. There are several types of medication that are used to treat withdrawal symptoms.

Bupropion is becoming a more common form of withdrawal medication. Although it’s most commonly used to treat depression, it is now also frequently prescribed to help reduce nicotine cravings and other withdrawal symptoms.

Varenicline is another common medication used to help people cope with nicotine withdrawal. Not only does it reduce cravings, but it also blocks your brain from producing dopamine when you smoke to make it less appealing and addictive.

Counseling 

One of the more common ways of dealing with the mental aspects of nicotine withdrawal, counseling and therapy can be invaluable at helping a person quit smoking for good. 

Forms of therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBD), one-to-one sessions with a therapist, and even group support meetings can all be incredibly helpful both before and after quitting. 

Getting counseling to help you quit smoking doesn’t have to be limited to the period afterwards when you’re experiencing nicotine withdrawal symptoms. It can also be helpful beforehand too, where you can access resources to help you quit, and learn good habits that will make the process easier.

Counseling is especially effective alongside NRT, where the structure of therapy couples well with hitting targets of reduced nicotine intake.

Final Thoughts

Quitting smoking is hard, and you’re more than likely going to have to deal with withdrawal symptoms for at least a week or so once you stop. But while it might be hard to deal with at first, coping with withdrawal symptoms isn’t an impossible task.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are at their worst in the first week after you first quit. After you break through that threshold, things only get easier from there.

By using these coping methods, building up good habits, and staying disciplined in your decision to quit, dealing with nicotine withdrawal symptoms is a lot easier than you might first think.

Giving up smoking is a freeing experience for both your mind and your body. It will improve your physical and mental health, as well as your social relationships with friends and family.

So if you’re quitting smoking and are prepared to deal with the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal until they wear off, you’ll be right on track to live a happier, healthier smoke-free life.

Good luck!

Josh
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