What Are the Side Effects of Quitting Smoking?

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What Are the Side Effects of Quitting Smoking?

Ryan Quinn

Written 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.

February 6, 2021 / Read Time 7 minutes

Side Effects of Quitting Smoking?

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. If you are accustomed to having nicotine in your system you will most likely experience some side effects of quitting smoking.

Knowing what to expect can help you get mentally prepared to cope with the negative side effects of quitting smoking.

Not all effects 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.

  • After 2 weeks your lungs begin to recuperate and you’ll be fuller of breath.

  • You experience an increase in dream activity.

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

Unfortunately, there are also a number of negative side effects from quitting smoking that can be challenging to overcome. Keep in mind that this is only a list of common effects of quitting smoking; you may only experience a subset of the symptoms. Physical side effects of 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 5-10 pounds)

  • Constipation

  • Intense cravings for nicotine

After quitting smoking, the mind strongly desires the “feel good” effects produced by nicotine. The mental and behavioral addiction to nicotine leads to some mental side effects of quitting smoking, such as:

  • Irritability, frustration, and anger

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Intense cravings for nicotine

Effects of quitting smoking may be worse at certain times of the day or in certain environments. This element of withdrawal is due to cognitive associations between people, places, or other habits and smoking. If you know of certain associations you have with smoking, try to avoid them.

People who have smoked for a long time or those who have smoked in large quantity are more likely to experience side effects of quitting smoking. Regardless of how much a person has smoked, none of the above symptoms are dangerous. They may be uncomfortable or even seem unbearable, but they will run their course and safely subside with time.

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How Long Do Cessation Side Effects Last?

For most people the side effects of quitting smoking will only last a few weeks. For some people symptoms can last several months. Effects 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 that, the withdrawal symptoms dissipate if you continue to stay smoke free.

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

Weight Gain: Is Quitting Worth It?

People may 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 are put it off because of the potential for weight gain. Minor weight gain (less than 10 pounds) is not unhealthy nor is it guaranteed, and quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. So, is it worth it? Yes.

The side effects of smoking can be grave. Weight gain and other effects of quitting smoking are manageable or altogether avoidable. If you are preparing to quit, consider employing some of these techniques to help manage weight gain.

  • Consume healthy food and drinks. A healthy diet is one of the best ways to help your lungs heal after quitting smoking. Alcoholic drinks like beer and mixed drinks can also contribute to weight gain and cravings to smoke.

  • 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, but it will release dopamine - the same “feel good” chemical released in the brain after smoking.

  • Alternative replacements. Eat when you are hungry, but not when you crave a smoke. 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.

Quitting Smoking Effects: Cold Turkey

Quitting smoking all at once, without using medications, counseling, or other therapy is known as quitting “cold turkey”. The effects of quitting smoking are not different if you quit cold turkey compared to other methods. However, you may experience quitting side effects 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 using the cold turkey approach range from 3 to 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 the Effects of Quitting Smoking

There are a number of medications available that can help a person manage the side effects of 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 people 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 to discuss what method is most appropriate for you. Over-the-counter medications might not be appropriate for certain individuals. For example, people with asthma, heart problems, diabetes, or who are pregnant should seek medical consultation before proceeding with nicotine replacements.

  1. 1

    Book on our free mobile app or website.

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

  2. 2

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

  3. 3

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

Preparing For The Effects of Quitting Smoking

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 you may want to investigate other methods.

There are 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 side effects of quitting smoking. When considering a quit date, avoid overlapping with times you expect to be stressed such as work deadlines. Also avoid dates that you really want to enjoy.

  • 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 Relapse

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

  • The side effects of quitting smoking are temporary: They will wane.

  • The first few days are the hardest: Symptoms will improve.

  • Try to recall where you were when you decided to quit: Remind yourself of your reasons for quitting.

  • Every time you beat a craving, your chances for a successful quit attempt go up: Don’t give in.

  • The intensity of a craving is drastically reduced after approximately 3 minutes: Play a game or find another distraction to help you get through the initial stage of a craving.

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 it isn’t the same as wanting to smoke. Missing it doesn’t mean you want to start 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.

Read More About Quitting Smoking


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