Quitting smoking is a battle. Several times throughout the day you feel like you could use a cigarette, and sometimes it takes everything you’ve got to simply say “No”.
But sadly, that’s just one part of the struggle. Quitting smoking comes with other issues besides.
The most talked about additional issue is weight gain, seeing as when you’re smoking, the nicotine suppresses your appetite and speeds up your metabolism. But what we’re talking about here is a third issue…
If you haven’t heard of the phrases “brain fog” or “mental fog” before, it simply refers to a particular state of mind where you experience a kind of mental fatigue.
Or, to put it another way, it feels as if your thoughts are unclear, or like you haven’t quite woken up.
And this can be really problematic. If you are working or studying, this brain fog gets in the way of everything you try to do. It inhibits your ability to concentrate, and this in turn has implications for everything you want to set your mind to…
Being unable to fully concentrate means that you struggle to take information in, struggle to weigh up the pros and cons for making decisions, struggle to do any mental arithmetic, struggle to recall information, and so on and so forth.
You get confused, you get forgetful. It’s a real hindrance.
And this is all because of the changes that the nicotine made to your body and brain, and the body’s attempts to get by without their expected continuous supply of nicotine.
In this article, I’m going to briefly cover the effect that nicotine had on your brain when you were using it, and explain the minefield that it’s left in when you decide to go cold turkey.
But although understanding the body and brain chemistry may help you to accept a little occasional brain fog as part of an unpleasant yet necessary process, it does nothing to actually solve the issue at hand.
Which is why I’m also going to provide you with tips on how to quit in such a way as to prevent instances of brain fog, along with some temporary measures that can come straight to your aid when you need it.
I also intend to answer all of your most frequently asked questions on the subject along the way. Please feel free to scroll ahead to any section that jumps out at you.
Effects Of Nicotine On Your Brain And Body
In order to get to the bottom of the effect of nicotine withdrawal on your brain, we must first understand what the nicotine was doing to your brain in the first place…
When you were smoking, nicotine was being a right busy-body in your brain.
Brain activity and function is characterized by the release of chemicals known as neurotransmitters between the brain cells known as neurons. Being able to think and feel clearly comes down to the efficiency of these neurotransmitters in your brain.
When you smoke, nicotine interacts with receptors in your brain cells. These receptors are like gateways in the cell membrane which determine the flow of an electric current through each brain cell.
And when nicotine interacts with nicotinic receptors in your brain by binding to them, it sparks off all manner of activity in the brain, getting the brain cells to release more neurotransmitters between brain cells than they otherwise would.
And the funny thing about nicotine is just how many neurotransmitter systems it affects.
Nicotine boosts the release of several neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, gamma-aminobutyric acid, and glutamate.
It’s kinda like a fireworks show with all the brain cells firing at once, which is why nicotine gives the user such an immediate and noticeable buzz.
And your second cigarette simply adds to the chain, and your brain becomes more than accustomed to these changes, and learns to expect them.
Effects Of Nicotine Withdrawal On Your Brain
And then, when you bring the supply of nicotine to your brain to a halt, suddenly the party is over, and the various neurotransmitter systems are no longer firing on all cylinders, and there are fewer neurotransmitters being emitted from one cell to the next, bring your brain almost to halt.
Your brain does not stop working altogether, but with such a powerful, draining effect on the movement of these neurotransmitters, it may as well have.
Your reactions are slowed, you are markedly less alert, and the efficiency of your brain is as depleted as the neurotransmitters themselves.
What’s more, at about 12 hours after quitting, blood flow to the brain is known to drop significantly, compounding the effect.
How Long Does It Take For Brain Chemistry To Return To Normal After Quitting Smoking? And How Long Does The Brain Fog Last?
As you can imagine, it’s going to take your brain some time to be able to function as well as it did during consumption of nicotine.
And in fact, according to some sources, it can take up to a whopping 4 to 12 weeks before the brain chemistry balance is fully restored, and your brain fog will be cleared.
However, the good news is that it rarely takes quite as long as that. There have been cases reported where brain fog is limited to between 12 and 72 hours of quitting.
How To Quit In A Way That Mitigates The Effects Of Brain Fog
It is better for your brain chemistry for you to give nicotine up slowly and gradually, rather than just suddenly coming to a complete stop. And there are several ways you can do this…
You could smoke less often, so that you end up having less cigarettes per day as previously would. And continue in this fashion until you no longer feel the need for them.
Or alternatively, you could try switching to nicotine patches and/or gum. Whereas a cigarette typically holds about 10 mg of nicotine, nicotine patches typically come in different strengths of 7 mg, 14 mg, or 21 mg.
And because you’re wearing them for a longer period than a few drags on a cigarette, your brain experiences a much more stable supply of nicotine, and you can wean yourself off gradually. (And nicotine gum provides just 2 mg of nicotine.)
Easy Remedies For Brain Fog
There are some really beneficial ways you can reduce or mitigate the effects of brain fog.
- Exercise – aerobic exercise helps to get more blood and oxygen flowing to your brain
- Diet – boosting your vitamin B intake helps to boost the formation and release of neurotransmitters in the brain
- Sleep – your hormone and neurotransmitter systems both benefit from getting a good, consistent sleep pattern
So, now you know why you get brain fog when you try to quit smoking, there is literally less activity in your brain when you withdraw from your usual nicotine supply.
So if this is a particular problem for you, I hope that you decide to take on-board the advice about coming off the nicotine in a gradual fashion rather than by going cold turkey.
And if not, I hope that you can at least follow the remedies for brain fog, and get through each day in one piece.