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What are Common Withdrawal Symptoms of Quitting Smoking?

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What Are Common Withdrawal Symptoms of Quitting Smoking?

writtenByWritten by: Ryan Quinn
Ryan Quinn

Ryan Quinn

Ryan has a background in geochemical research and enjoys writing on technical subjects like health and science. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT and can be found recreating in the local mountains.

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March 31, 2021 Read Time - 10 minutes

While Chantix is no longer available due to Pfizer’s voluntary recall, it is still possible to request the generic version (Varenicline) to help with your treatment. Speak with a doctor to learn more.

Quitting Smoking: Withdrawal Symptoms

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. The body and brain become used to the presence of nicotine, and when it is removed from the system, the mind and body have to adjust. 

This adjustment, called smoking withdrawal, can be an uncomfortable challenge to get through. Knowing what to expect can help you mentally prepare to cope with smoking withdrawal symptoms.

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Smoking Withdrawal Timeline: Benefits of Quitting

Not all smoking withdrawal side effects are bad. When you quit, you can look forward to immediate benefits such as:

  • Heart rate and blood pressure return to normal levels in just 20 minutes.
  • Carbon monoxide levels return to normal after only 12 hours.
  • Nerve endings begin to regenerate after 48 hours, allowing you to smell and taste to a fuller extent.
  • Lungs begin to recuperate after 2 weeks, allowing you to take deeper breaths.
  • There may be a possible increase in dream activity.

If you are a smoker, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health. 

What Are Smoking Withdrawal Symptoms?

Unfortunately, there are a number of uncomfortable smoking withdrawal symptoms after quitting smoking that can be challenging to overcome, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Tingling in hands and feet
  • Sweating
  • Coughing and sore throat
  • Increased appetite and associated weight gain (approximately 5 to 10 pounds)
  • Constipation
  • Cravings for nicotine

“Many abused drugs are associated with the development of significant physiological dependence—especially when consumed in large amounts and for a consistent period,” according to Scot Thomas, M.D. “When someone becomes dependent on a substance, they may be at risk of experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop using their drug of choice.”

What Does Nicotine Withdrawal Feel Like?

After smoking, the mind strongly desires the “feel good” effects caused by inhaling nicotine. The mental and behavioral addiction to nicotine leads to some nicotine withdrawal symptoms that can affect mental health, such as:

  • Irritability, frustration, and anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Cravings for nicotine

Symptoms may be worse at certain times of the day or in certain environments. This element of smoking withdrawal is due to cognitive associations between smoking and certain people, places, or habits. 

If you know of specific associations you have with smoking, such as driving your car, try to avoid them. If possible, take public transportation or ride a bike instead.

People who have smoked for a long time or those who have smoked in large quantities are more likely to experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

How Long Do Smoking Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

For most people, the symptoms of withdrawal will only last a few weeks. In some cases, people can experience symptoms that last several months.

Symptoms of quitting smoking typically peak around 48 hours after quitting, but it is not uncommon for withdrawal symptoms to be intense for the first week after quitting. After that, the withdrawal symptoms wane away if you continue to stay smoke-free.

A few symptoms of quitting smoking can persist for long periods of time. Sudden cravings long after quitting are not uncommon, and some may struggle for longer periods of time with weight gained after quitting. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce cravings and manage your symptoms after quitting smoking.

Smoking Withdrawal and Weight Gain: Is Quitting Worth It?

Despite the risk of potential weight gain, quitting smoking is still worth it. Minor weight gain (less than 10 pounds) is not unhealthy, and quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health.

People gain weight after quitting smoking for several reasons:

  • Nicotine increases the speed at which your body metabolizes food by 7% to 15%. After nicotine is removed from your system, your body will burn food at a slower pace.
  • Cigarettes reduce appetite. After quitting, you may find yourself eating more.
  • Some people fill the craving for a cigarette by eating instead, even if they aren’t hungry.

Some of the side effects of smoking can be challenging to overcome, but weight gain after quitting is manageable and avoidable. If you are preparing to quit and concerned about weight gain, you can adjust other habits to help maintain your desired weight.

  • Choose healthy foods and drinks – Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Not only are they generally healthy, but some options like celery are low in calories and can help keep your hands and mouth busy without consuming more energy than your body needs. Other snacks, such as raw nuts, can help occupy cravings for food. Stick to water, carbonated water, teas, and other healthy drinks. Sodas and juices can be loaded with sugar and lead to weight gain. Alcoholic drinks such as beer and mixed drinks can also contribute to weight gain (and cravings to smoke, too). Avoid the bars and go to bed on time. Healthy diet is also one of the best ways to help clean out your lungs after quitting smoking.
  • Get enough sleep – You are more likely to gain weight if you aren’t getting enough sleep.
  • Physical activity – Moving and using your body is a great way to burn calories. Not only does it help manage weight gain but also releases dopamine—the same “feel good” chemical released in the brain after smoking. Getting exercise helps manage weight gain and the other symptoms of smoking withdrawal. Exercise provides numerous additional benefits for your health on a holistic level.
  • Alternative replacements – Eat when you are hungry but not as a replacement to smoking. Instead of replacing cigarettes with food, replace them with something healthy or neutral. When you get a craving to smoke, chew sugar-free gum or floss your teeth instead. For some people, nicotine gum provides a temporary replacement for smoking. Such products are an example of nicotine replacement therapies, which could be appropriate for you.
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What Happens If You Stop Smoking Suddenly?

When you quit smoking suddenly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms at a higher intensity. 

Quitting smoking without the use of medications, counseling, or other therapy is known as quitting ‘cold turkey.’ The withdrawal symptoms of quitting smoking are not different if you quit cold turkey compared to other methods.

Success rates for quitting cold turkey range between 3% and 10%. Quitting smoking is hard—and doing it by sheer willpower isn’t easy.

The main benefit to quitting cold turkey is that it is free and it does not require time spent at medical appointments or counseling sessions. It is worth a try (or multiple tries), but if it doesn’t work for you, don’t get overwhelmed or lose hope. There are other ways to quit that include support during your attempt.


Read: How to Quit Smoking


Medications for Smoking Withdrawal

There are a number of medications available that can help a person manage symptoms after quitting smoking. Products for nicotine replacement therapy include skin patches, chewing gum, nasal spray, inhalers, and lozenges. These products supply the body with nicotine and are intended to help wean smokers off of tobacco. 

Nicotine replacement therapies help to relieve withdrawal symptoms while also removing exposure to other harmful chemicals produced by smoking. Some products don’t contain nicotine, such as Zyban and Chantix.

Some might suggest replacing cigarettes with e-cigarettes. The bottom line is that there is no clear data on the health effects of using e-cigarettes, nor is it clear whether vaping helps you quit smoking.

Many nicotine replacement therapies are available over-the-counter, but it is still a good idea to consult with a doctor before using medications. Over-the-counter medications might not be appropriate for certain individuals. 

People with asthma, heart problems, diabetes, or pregnancy should seek medical consultation before proceeding with nicotine replacements and smoking cessation medications.

Preparing for Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

Deciding to quit is an important step of the process. If you feel a sudden motivation to quit ‘cold turkey,’ then go for it and follow through. If you’ve attempted to quit in the past or otherwise suspect quitting cold turkey won’t work for you, then we recommend investigating other methods.

There is an abundance of tips and tricks available to help a person quit smoking, but quitting is different for everyone, and some tips might be more helpful than others. Schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider to discuss a plan to quit. They can help you navigate quitting as well as provide encouragement and support.

Some tips to help you prepare for nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Choose a quit date – This can be effective as it allows you to plan ahead and prepare for the symptoms of quitting smoking. When considering a quit date, avoid overlapping with times you expect to be stressed, such as work deadlines. Avoid dates that you really want to enjoy. Quitting the day before a friend’s wedding might hinder the experience for you or others.
  • Adjust your habits prior to quitting – The associative link between smoking and other habits can make urges to smoke very intense. Before your quit date, change where and when you smoke to help break associative habits.

Moving to a new location might be a good time to quit. Moving is a big life change that can shake up your daily habits. This shake up might help to take smoking away from other routines.

Smoking Withdrawal Symptoms: Preventing Relapse

If you experience a craving that seems unbearable, keep these things in mind:

  • The withdrawal symptoms when you quit smoking are temporary. They will wane (often after 3–5 minutes after the onset of a craving).
  • The first few days are the hardest. Symptoms will improve.
  • Try to recall why you decided to quit and remind yourself of your reasons.
  • Every time you beat a craving, your chances for a successful quit attempt increase. Don’t give in.

If you do give into a craving, it doesn’t mean you failed, nor does it nullify the progress you’ve made or the health benefits you’ve experienced so far. Giving into a craving does not put you back to square one or end your quit attempt.

Long after you quit, you may feel like you miss smoking. This feeling isn’t unusual, but missing it isn’t the same as wanting to smoke again.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

PlushCare-App-Steps

When to Contact a Doctor

If you are a smoker, anytime is a good time to talk to a doctor about quitting. Talking to a doctor about quitting can double your chances of successfully quitting.

A doctor can help construct a quit plan that is right for you, including recommendations for over-the-counter or prescription medications. If you are ready to quit, call or book online with PlushCare to set up a phone appointment with a top U.S. doctor today.


Read More About Quitting Smoking


Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

American Addiction Centers. Drug Withdrawal Symptoms, Timelines, and Treatment. Accessed on February 7, 2021 at https://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines-treatments 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking Cessation: Fast Facts. Accessed on March 27, 2021 at https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/cessation/smoking-cessation-fast-facts/index.html 

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Commonly abused drugs and withdrawal symptoms. Accessed on February 7, 2021 at https://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/nida_commonlyabused_withdrawalsymptoms_10062017-508-1.pdf 

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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