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Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms and Recovery Nicotine Is a Very Powerful Drug!


Tobacco contains a form of the nicotine molecule that is an addictive drug, and smokers become addicted. If you quit abruptly, you will go through the physical and psychological effects of drug-withdrawal, These may include intense food cravings, jittery nerves, anxiety, short temper, depression, and sleeplessness. Some drug addiction treatment centers offer programs to help an individual quit smoking. The addiction-withdrawal symptoms will be worst the first week and less severe during the second. After a month, most of the withdrawal symptoms will be gone, If you quit gradually, the withdrawal may be less intense but more prolonged.

This is why many experts recommend quitting abruptly! Nicotine withdrawal involves irritability, headache, and craving associated with the sudden cessation or reduction of smoking or other tobacco use by a nicotine-dependent individual.

If you need professional help in quitting smoking, you can approach drug addiction treatment centers that address smoking problems.

Causes, Incidence and Risk Factors...

Almost all people who try to quit have some form of nicotine withdrawal. Generally, the longer one has been a smoker and the more nicotine and higher number of cigarettes consumed, the more likely it is that withdrawal symptoms will occur and the more severe they are likely to be. Furthermore, people who are regular smokers tend to have particularly strong cravings and worsening of withdrawal symptoms at certain times, places, or situations associated with smoking. Tobacco contains nicotine, an addictive drug, and smokers become addicted. If you quit abruptly, you will go through the physical and psychological effects of drug-withdrawal, These may include intense food cravings, jittery nerves, anxiety, short temper, depression, and sleeplessness. The addiction-withdrawal symptoms will be worst the first week and less severe during the second. After a month, most of the withdrawal symptoms will be gone, If you quit gradually, the withdrawal may be less intense but more prolonged, This is why many experts recommend quitting abruptly!


The common symptoms include an intense craving for nicotine, tension, irritability, headaches, difficulty in concentrating, drowsiness and trouble in sleeping, increased appetite and weight gain. A milder form of nicotine withdrawal involving some or all of these symptoms can occur when a smoker switches from regular to low-nicotine cigarettes or significantly cuts down.


There are several strategies for treating nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine supplementation in the form of gum or patch can be helpful. A variety of other agents have also been used with some success in maintaining abstinence and reducing withdrawal symptoms.

These agents include clonidine, antidepressants such as fluoxetine (Prozac), and buspirone (Buspar). Bupropion (Zyban) was approved in 1996 by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for nicotine dependence. Using buproprion or nicotine replacement therapies alone doubles the odds of successful quitting. Using a combination of these methods increases success rates even more. Buproprion and other antidepressants are not habit-forming, and may help reduce the possibility that nicotine withdrawal may lead to depression. Since nicotine itself has antidepressant effects - and many smokers unknowingly smoke to self-medicate depression - use of antidepressants to relieve withdrawal may be particularly helpful. A screening for depression may also be helpful to ensure proper treatment and increase the odds of maintaining abstinence. People trying to quit smoking often become discouraged when they don't succeed at first. Research shows that the more times you try, the more likely you are to succeed - so don't give up!

Expectations (prognosis):

Nicotine withdrawal is short-lived and should pass in time. While withdrawal is the most uncomfortable part of quitting, the real challenge is beating long-term cravings and staying abstinent.


The most likely complication will be a return to smoking. Weight gain due to increased eating also may occur. This is much less unhealthy than continuing to smoke, and those with concerns about weight should address them while quitting so that they do not undermine their attempts to stay away from cigarettes.

Calling your health care provider:

See your health care provider if you wish to stop smoking, or have already done so and are experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Your provider can help provide treatments, some of which are only available by prescription.

Have You Ever Wonder Why it is So Hard To Quit Smoking?

Nicotine is a drug found naturally in tobacco. The body becomes physically and psychologically dependent on nicotine. Studies have shown that smokers must overcome both of these to be successful at quitting and staying quit.

When smoke is inhaled, nicotine is carried deep into the lungs where it is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and carried to the heart, brain, liver, and spleen. Nicotine affects many parts of the body, including the heart and blood vessels, the hormonal system, body metabolism, and the brain. Nicotine is found in breast milk and in cervix mucous secretions. Nicotine freely crosses the placenta and has been found in amniotic fluid and the umbilical cord blood of newborn infants. Nicotine is metabolized by the liver, lungs and a small amount is excreted by the kidneys. Nicotine is broken down into cotinine and nicotine-N'-oxide.

Although several different factors influence the rate of metabolism and excretion, measurements of nicotine or its metabolites will vary depending on the fluid being measured (blood, urine, or saliva). In general, a regular smoker will have nicotine or its metabolite (cotinine) present in the body for about 3 to 4 days.

In studies measuring nicotine levels in urine, 72 hour urine collections yielded greater than 90% of cotinine in most subjects.

Nicotine produces pleasurable feelings that make the smoker want to smoke more and also acts as a depressant by interfering with the flow of information between nerve cells. As the nervous system adapts to nicotine, smokers tend to increase the number of cigarettes they smoke, and hence the amount of nicotine in their blood. After a while, the smoker develops a tolerance to the drug, which leads to an increase in smoking over time. Eventually, the smoker reaches a certain nicotine level and then smokes to maintain this level of nicotine.

Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms After You Stop Smoking

Nicotine is a very powerful drug! When smokers try to cut back or quit, the absence of nicotine leads to withdrawal. Withdrawal is both physical and psychological. Physically, the body is reacting to the absence of the drug nicotine. Psychologically, the smoker is faced with giving up a habit. Both must be dealt with if quitting is to be successful.

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Withdrawal symptoms can include any of the following: depression, feelings of frustration and anger, irritability, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, headache, tiredness, and increased appetite. These uncomfortable symptoms lead the smoker to again start smoking cigarettes enough to boost blood levels of nicotine back to the level at which no symptoms occur.

If a person has smoked regularly for a few weeks or longer and abruptly stops using tobacco or significantly reduces the amount smoked, withdrawal symptoms will occur, usually within a few hours of the last cigarette and peak about 48 to 72 hours later. Withdrawal symptoms can last for a few days to several weeks.

Addiction and Withdrawal

Billions of dollars have been spent in the United States fighting over whether or not nicotine is addictive. The position of the medical and scientific communities is that nicotine is most definitely addictive. Nicotine meets both the psychological and physiological measures of addiction:

  • Psychological - People who are addicted to something will use it compulsively, without regard for its negative effects on their health or their life. A good example would be someone who continues to smoke, even as they use an oxygen tank to breathe because of the damage smoking has done to their lungs.

  • Physiological - Neuroscientists call anything that turns on the reward pathway in the brain addictive. Because stimulating this neural circuitry makes you feel so good, you will continue to do it again and again to get those feelings back.


Nicotine's effects are short-lived, lasting only 40 minutes to a couple of hours. This leads people to smoke or chew tobacco periodically throughout the day to dose themselves with nicotine. Add to this the fact that you can become tolerant to nicotine's effects -- you need to use more and more nicotine to reach the same degree of stimulation or relaxation -- and you can see how people would quickly move from smoking one cigarette to a pack a day habit.

What happens when smokers abruptly stop using nicotine? While you're using nicotine-containing products, your body adapts the way it works to compensate for the effects of the nicotine. For example, neurons in your brain might increase or decrease the number of receptors or the amount of different neurotransmitters affected by the presence of nicotine. When you no longer have nicotine in your body, these physiological adaptations for nicotine remain. The net result is that your body can't function the same way in the absence of the drug as it did before, at least in the short term. People trying to quit nicotine experience this as:

  • Irritability

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Craving for nicotine

Over a period of about a month, these symptoms and the physiological changes subside. But for many smokers, even a day without nicotine is excruciating. Every year, millions of people try to break the nicotine habit; only 10 percent of them succeed. Most people throw in the towel after less than a week of trying, because the way that nicotine rewires the reward system in the brain makes nicotine's pull irresistible.

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Updated March 2, 2017