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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.

Read more posts by this author.

December 19, 2017 Read Time - 9 minutes

What are Common Withdrawal Symptoms of Quitting Smoking?

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 is withdrawal and it can be an uncomfortable challenge to get through. Knowing what to expect can help you get mentally prepared to cope with quit smoking withdrawal.

Not all symptoms of quitting smoking 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 and you’ll be fuller of breath.
  • There may be a possible increase in dream activity.

If you are a smoker, quitting is one of the best thing you can do for your health. Take a look at the article “Benefits of Quitting Smoking: Learn Reasons to Quit Smoking Today” to learn more about the positive side effects of quitting smoking.

Unfortunately, there are a number of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms after quitting smoking that can be challenging to overcome, but keep in mind that when you quit smoking you might only experience a few of the below symptoms. Physical symptoms after quitting smoking include:

  • 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

After smoking, the mind strongly desires the “feel good” effects caused by inhaling nicotine.The mental and behavioral addiction to nicotine leads to some symptoms of quitting smoking that 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 ‘quit 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. Perhaps take public transportation if available or ride a bike.

People who have smoked for a long time or those who have smoked in large quantity are more likely to experience ‘quitting smoking symptoms’.

Quitting Smoking Symptoms, How Long Do They 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.

Weight Gain: is Quitting Worth it?

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 and after quitting you may find yourself eating more.
  • Some people fill the craving for a smoke by eating instead, even if they aren’t hungry.

Some smokers may want to quit, but put it off because the potential weight gain. 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. Is it worth it? Yes.

The side effects of smoking can be grave. Weight gain and other symptoms after quitting smoking are manageable or avoidable. If you are preparing to quit and are concerned about weight gain, you can adjust other habits to help keep a desired weight.

  • Healthy food and drink. Buy 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 can help occupy cravings for food such as raw nuts. 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 like beer and mixed drinks can also contribute to weight gain (and cravings to smoke too). Avoid the bars and get to bed on time. Healthy diet is also one of the best ways to help clean out your lungs after quitting smoking.
  • Sleep. You are more likely to gain weight if you aren’t getting enough sleep. Make sure to get those zzz’s.
  • Physical activity. Moving and using your body is a great way to burn calories. Not only does that help manage weight gain, but it will release dopamine – the same “feel good” chemical released in the brain after smoking. Getting good exercise helps manage weight gain and other symptoms of quitting smoking. 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 the cigarette with food, replace it with something healthy or neutral. When you get a craving to smoke, chew sugar-free gum or floss your teeth instead. For some people gum that contains nicotine provides a temporary replacement for smoking. Such products are an example of nicotine replacement therapies, which could be appropriate for you.

Quit Smoking Cold Turkey: Withdrawal Symptoms

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. However, you may experience withdrawal symptoms at higher intensity if you quit cold turkey.

Will you be more successful if you go cold turkey? Probably not. Success rates for quitting attempts when done in the cold turkey fashion 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.

Medications for Alleviating 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. There are some pros and cons to vaping, but 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. For more information on medications for quitting smoking take a look at “Smoking Cessation Drugs: What Smoking Cessation Medications Exist?”.

Preparing for Withdrawal Symptoms

Deciding to quit is an important step of the process. If you feel sudden motivation to quit ‘cold turkey’ then go for it and follow through. If you’ve had quit attempts 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.

  • Choosing a quit date 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.

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 go up. Don’t give in.

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

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

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 improve your chance for a successful quit by more than double.

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.

Sources:

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

drugabuse.gov. Withdrawal Symptoms. Accessed on February 7, 2021 at https://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/nida_commonlyabused_withdrawalsymptoms_10062017-508-1.pdf

samhsa.gov. Withdrawal help. Accessed on February 7, 2021 at https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

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

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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