You’ve quit smoking, eh? That is great, really! Millions of people try to quit smoking but fail, because let’s face it, it really is a tough habit to kick. This happens because nicotine is highly addictive, in fact, it is equally as addictive as cocaine or heroin. And nicotine withdrawal is real. This is why smokers try to quit many times before they do it for good. All smokers go through nicotine withdrawal because the latter affects all areas of your body, from your heart to your hormones, metabolism, and brain. When your body is deprived of nicotine, you will physically crave nicotine that it will become irritable if you can’t have it. Nicotine withdrawal usually lasts only a month or so, but fighting the mental battle might take even longer. However, it is important to note that not everyone will experience nicotine withdrawal in the same way. It depends on a number of factors like the way you smoked, how much you smoked, how long you smoked, whether you inhaled or not etc. It also depends if you quit cold turkey or steady. If you quit smoking cold turkey, you might experience more severe withdrawal symptoms compared to those who take a more cohesive approach. However, with a little persistence and preparation, you will get through it.
What causes nicotine withdrawal?
When you smoke, the number of nicotine receptors in the brain, increases, so when you quit smoking, those receptors expect nicotine, and when they don’t get it, they start to adjust. That adjustment process is what causes withdrawals and cravings. In case a smoker uses nicotine for a long time, the balance of brain messengers changes. So when those receptors and messengers don’t get the nicotine they usually get, the chemical balance in the brain changes and it leads to physical and psychological side effects. Such disruption of brain chemicals is what we know as nicotine addiction.
What are the nicotine withdrawal symptoms?
1. Nicotine cravings – This is one of the most challenging and persistent symptoms. When you stop giving your body nicotine, the ‘feel-good’ hormone called dopamine that your body has gotten accustomed to release, stops doing so. Craving is a psychological symptom in which the body wants what it has adapted and become tolerant to. However, craving symptoms typically last for 5 to 10 minutes. Although they can be extremely uncomfortable, try to wait them out and remind yourself that this too shall pass.
2. Mood changes – Mood changes are one of the first symptoms of early nicotine withdrawal. It can trigger extreme changes in mood such as sudden and irrational outbursts, but also short-term psychological changes, including increased blood pressure and heart rate. People who quit smoking have also reported having had memory problems and concentration difficulties.
3. Sleep problems – Another common side effect of nicotine withdrawal is sleep disturbance. Studies have shown that when you quit smoking, the rapid eye movement (REM) is also affected, meaning that you may experience a lack of quality sleep and a persistent tiredness during the day.
4. Weight gain – This has more to do than just replacing a habit with another habit. In fact, whenever you smoke, the nicotine you take triggers the release of glucose, thus, altering your insulin response. However, when you stop taking nicotine, you may experience a drop in blood sugar, meaning that your body will feel the need to consume carbs, sweets, and other food to satisfy this sudden hunger.
5. A cough – Although this might be alarming to a lot of people, but as odd as this may seem, it actually means that your lungs are getting better, and not the other way around. You see, when you smoke, the lining of your airways will become immobilized. After you quit, they will return to normal, pushing toxic deposits out of the lungs to be coughed out.
How long do the symptoms last?
Usually, the symptoms typically surface in between 3 to 24 hours after the last smoke. The peak of withdrawal symptoms is typically around day 3 after you have quit smoking and then gradually subside over 3 to 4 weeks. However, it can last longer for some people, and some places, situations, and even people can trigger nicotine cravings. It is important to know that many cravings will mostly last 15 minutes.
After two hours of the last smoke, half of the nicotine will leave your body. Besides withdrawal symptoms, there are also positive changes that people being to notice after they quit smoking, such as an improved sense of smell and taste, less coughing, and easier breathing.
How to cope with withdrawals?
The good thing is that you’ve stopped smoking, and the withdrawal effects are so much worth than life-threatening diseases that smoking causes. However, there are a lot of coping ways and techniques that can help you with nicotine withdrawal, such as mentally preparing yourself for the changes, exercising, avoiding triggers, making a list of all the benefits that come from quitting smoking, keeping busy, starting a new hobby, or spending more time with non-smoking friends. You’re doing great.
You might also want to read: What Are The Nicotine Effects And How Does It Work?