For most people, the worst symptoms of nicotine withdrawal only last a few days to a couple weeks. But cravings for cigarettes can last longer. We review the common nicotine withdrawal symptoms and offer a timeline for you to track your progress. You can do it!
Nicotine withdrawal symptoms
Nicotine affect many parts of your body, including your brain. Over time, your body and brain get used to the prescence of nicotine and when you stop smoking, you go through withdrawal. So withdrawal is simply the time that it takes for your body to adjust to not having nicotine. Nicotine withdrawal can be unpleasant, but you can get through it. Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal do get better over time. In fact, every day the symptoms will improve.
The first few hours
Withdrawal onset begins within a few hours of the last does of nicotine. Although nicotine withdrawal is different for every smoker, common symptoms of withdrawal during this acute phase include:
- decreased performance on cognitive tasks (trouble thinking clearly and concentrating)
- decreased performance on psycho motor tasks
- feeling irritable, on edge, or grouchy
- feeling restless and jumpy
- increased appetite
- intense cravings for nicotine
- slower heart rate
- trouble getting or staying asleep (insomnia)
The first couple of weeks
Some symptoms of nicotine withdrawal can persist for a couple of weeks after you stop using nicotine. You may notice attention disturbance, restlessness, sleep disturbance, and cognitive performance changes last more than a week after you go through the more intense feelings of anxiety and depression related to nicotine withdrawal. Weight gain may also result from an increase in appetite. However, these symptoms should not last longer than a couple of weeks. Cravings for nicotine, however, may persist long after actute withdrawal from nicotine is successful.
How long does nicotine withdrawal last?
The duration of nicotine withdrawal syndrome (the official diagnostic name for nicotine withdrawal) varies, but on average, the acute physical syndrome is worst during the first month of abstinence. In a recent study, all symptoms related to nicotine withdrawal returned to baseline levels much earlier than one month – and resolved within 10 days of quitting.
Help for nicotine withdrawal
Experts have found that both medications and behavioral treatments (such as self-help books or cognitive-behavioral therapy) can help you stop smoking in the long run. See this workbook on how to control cigarette urges as an example. But there are medications that can help you get over the hump when going through withdrawal. These include:
1. Antidepressants – The antidepressant bupropion is FDA-approved and can help people quit smoking. The brand name for bupropion is Zyban.
2. Nicotine replacement therapy – Nicotine replacement therapy supplies enough nicotine to the body to prevent withdrawal symptoms but not enough to provide the quick jolt caused by inhaling a cigarette. Nicotine gum or skin patches are available over the counter, but you need a prescription to use nicotine nasal spray and nicotine inhalers.
3. Smoking cessation medicines – Varenicline tartrate (Chantix) is also used for smoking cessation. These medications are non-nicotine based but still act at the sites in the brain affected by nicotine. Ask your doctor about this new generation of medicine which may help you quit nicotine dependence by easing withdrawal symptoms and blocking the effects of nicotine if you start smoking again.
Anticipate cravings to start smoking again
A tricky thing about nicotine is that smoking or using tobacco can be associated with pleasant memories, rituals and feelings. So even years after you stop smoking, urges to smoke can still be present. New situations or stress can especially trigger relapse. In order to control cravings, you need to anticipate them and know how to choose different behaviors to respond to life. You can also find more help using these national hotlines and talk to a tobacco cessation counselor:
Questions about nicotine withdrawal?
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