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Quit Smoking Withdrawal Symptoms

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!

Ever Wonder Why it is So hard to Quit Smoking?

Mark Twain said, "Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it a thousand times." Maybe you've tried to quit too. Why is quitting, and staying quit, hard for so many people? The answer is nicotine.


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.

What Does Nicotine Do to Your Body

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.


Why Do Smokers Fail to Quit?

About 25% of adults continue to smoke, about 70% of them want to quit. In one study, of the women smokers who said they wanted to stop smoking, 80% of them were unable to. Nicotine is a psychoactive drug, and some researchers feel it is as addictive as heroin; in fact, nicotine has actions similar to cocaine and heroin in the same area of the brain.

Depending on the amount taken in, nicotine can act as either a stimulant or a sedative. Most smokers have a special fondness for the first cigarette of the day because of the way brain cells respond to the day's first nicotine rush. Rat studies show that nicotine increases the activity of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that elicits pleasurable sensations -- a feeling similar to achieving a reward. The first nicotine intake of the day is particularly effective in enhancing the activity of dopamine-sensitive neurons. During the day, however, the nerve cells become desensitized to nicotine; smoking becomes less pleasurable and smokers may be likely to increase their intake to get their "reward". A smoker develops tolerance to these effects very quickly and requires increasingly higher levels of nicotine.

Withdrawal is a difficult process. Even after years of non-smoking, about 20% of ex-smokers still have occasional cravings for cigarettes. A study in 1986 reported that 68% of all smokers wanted to quit, and in that year a third of them tried seriously, but only 6% of all smokers succeeded. People who keep trying, however, have a 50% chance of finally quitting, and in any case the attempts to quit are never a waste of time, since the amount of smoking is reduced during these periods.

Researchers have been trying to discover those conditions or sets of behaviours that can help predict why so many people fail to quit. From one study to the next, however, no consistent factors have emerged; these include gender, number of cigarettes smoked, levels of nicotine in the blood, length of time smoked, or the intensity or severity of withdrawal. A 1994 study, however, did find one consistent predictor for failure to quit: almost anyone who cheated during the first two weeks of withdrawal, even if they were wearing the patch, was smoking again in six months. On the other hand, nearly half of the people who didn't cheat during the first two weeks were still not smoking after sixth months.

A recent study indicates that smokers who quit and start again may damage their lungs even more severely than people who have not yet made an attempt to quit. Some experts suggest that those who relapse may have been at high risk for poor lung function in the first place or that those who start smoking again are more strongly addicted than other smokers and may inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs longer. The message here is not that quitting smoking is more dangerous than not quitting; the emphasis is on not starting again.

Nicotine - A Very Powerful Drug!

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.

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.


The Truth About Nicotine Withdrawal

One of the keys to quitting smoking is acknowledging that smoking cigarettes is an addiction that can be managed and overcome. One of the main reasons people give up quitting is because they find the withdrawal symptoms so fierce and unexpected. Don’t worry these symptoms are actually good news, signs that your body is purging itself of all the harmful chemicals cigarettes left in your body.

Most people do not experience all of the symptoms below:

Dizziness Increased oxygen levels in blood and blood pressure lowering to normal Be careful, take precautions and don’t work to hard

1 - 5 days

Coughing, nose running The body’s respiratory system begins to clean itself Drink lots of fluids

1 – 5 days

Sore throat The clearing away of nicotine and tar and the growth of new tissue Suck sweets, eat honey or anything else that will soothe your throat

1 – 5 days

Tight chest The coughing causes the chest muscles to get sore Try relaxation and deep breathing exercises

1 – 2 weeks

Flatulence and constipation Temporary slowing of intestinal movement Eat lots of fibre and drink lots of fluids

1 – 2 weeks

Headaches Increased blood flow (with more oxygen) to the back of the brain. Drink lots of fluids and do relaxation exercises

2 – 4 weeks

Irritability Your body is desperate for nicotine Relaxation exercises

2 – 4 weeks

Reduced concentration Increased blood flow and oxygen to brain and lack of stimulation from nicotine Don’t over exert yourself.

2 – 4 weeks

Fatigue Without nicotine your metabolic rate drops down to normal Don’t over exert yourself. This feeling will go away in a few weeks

Click Here For More Withdrawal Symptoms

Nicotine Withdrawal Explained



External Resources for Withdrawal Symptoms
After Quitting Smoking

Understanding Quit Smoking Withdrawal Symptoms - SmokeFree.gov   

7 Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal - VeryhWellMind

Overcoming Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms - WebMD   

Managing Nicotine Withdrawal - QuitNow.ca  


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Updated February 2021