Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms & Recovery

The first few weeks after quitting smoking are usually the most difficult and it's safe to say that it normally takes at least 8-12 weeks before a person starts to feel comfortable with their new lifestyle change of being an ex-smoker. Withdrawal from nicotine, an addictive drug found in tobacco, is characterized by symptoms that include headache, anxiety, nausea and a craving for more tobacco. Nicotine creates a chemical dependency, so that the body develops a need for a certain level of nicotine at all times. Unless that level is maintained, the body will begin to go through withdrawal. For tobacco users trying to quit, symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine are unpleasant and stressful, but only temporary. Most withdrawal symptoms peak 48 hours after you quit and are completely gone in six months.

When you are experiencing symptoms of recovery (withdrawal), remind yourself of why you are quitting; write your reasons on a card and keep it with you. Remind yourself that whatever discomfort you are experiencing is only a tiny fraction of the probable discomfort associated with continued smoking (i.e. Painful diseases like cancer, surgery, chemotherapy, emphysema etc.).

Withdrawal in the First Two Weeks

Because the first two weeks are so critical in determining quitting failure rates, smokers should not be shy about seeking all the help they can during this period.

Withdrawal symptoms begin as soon as four hours after the last cigarette, generally peak in intensity at three to five days, and disappear after two weeks. They include both physical and mental symptoms.

Physical Symptoms. During the quitting process people should consider the following physical symptoms of withdrawal as they were recuperating from a disease and treat them accordingly as they would any physical symptoms:

Mental and Emotional Symptoms. Tension and craving build up during periods of withdrawal, sometimes to a nearly intolerable point. One European study found that the incidence of workplace accidents increases on No Smoking Day, a day in which up to 2 million smokers either reduce the amount they smoke or abstain altogether.

Nearly every moderate to heavy smoker experiences more than one of the following strong emotional and mental responses to withdrawal.


Some Common Withdrawal Symptoms:

Anger and Mood Swings

Anger is part of the quitting process. You don’t have to have a reason to feel that way, you just do. Accept it, vent it safely. Deal with the irritating situation by dealing with your feelings rather than suppressing them. Say what’s on your mind without blowing your stack. Anger openly expressed or kept inside creates tension which may create the need for a cigarette. Reducing the tension will reduce your desire for a cigarette. Discuss your anger with your buddy. Take a walk. Do deep breathing exercises.


Try new things. Keep your hands and mind busy (write a letter, do dishes, cook, paint, do carpentry, knit, garden, sew). Run some errands, get caught up on jobs you haven’t had time to do, or go see a movie. If you have to stay in one place, have a book/crossword puzzles/deck of cards handy.

Constipation, gas, stomach pain

Constipation is caused by intestinal movement decreases for a brief period. It will normally last for several weeks.
Drink plenty of liquids (6-8 glasses of water daily); add roughage to diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, bran); go for walks.

Feeling cooped up

Feeling of being cooped up are normal. You miss your old friend your cigarettes who used to go everywhere you used to go. Go for a short walk, go swimming, bike riding. Keep yourself physically and mentally busy.

Cough, dry throat/mouth, nasal drip

This is caused from your body getting rid of mucous which has blocked airways and restricted breathing. Drink plenty of fluids; drink cold water, fruit juice, tea; use cough drops, gum or hard candy.

Craving for a cigarette

Withdrawal from nicotine, a strongly addictive drug. It is most frequent the first 2 or 3 days. Occasionally, it can occur for months or for years. Wait out the urge; they only last a few minutes.  Wait until it passes (in general 3 to 5 minutes). Get busy. Start another activity.Think of something else. Focus on your work.Drink some water, chew some gum or eat sugarless candy.Eat something (e.g., some fruit). Breathe deeply several times. Do a relaxing exercise. Brush your teeth. Tell yourself the symptoms will disappear in a few days.

Depression & Despair

Find a substitute reward to smoking. Deal with your emotions. Call your support buddy. Use positive self-talk. Don’t cut yourself down; build yourself up. Don’t allow a self-defeatist attitude (I’m no good, I can’t do this). This can lead to a decreased sense of control and a drop in self-esteem. Think of success, not failure! It’s normal to feel sad, angry, or confused in the first few smoke-free weeks. These feelings will pass but If the depression does not appear to be going away, take it seriously and consult your doctor.


Your body is getting extra oxygen like it hasn't seen for a long time. Get fresh air, go for a walk, change positions slowly. It will last several days and will go away.


Nicotine is a stimulant. 2 to 4 weeks. Get extra sleep and more exercise; take naps; don’t push yourself. If you feel tired when you first wake up, do some moderate exercises and take a cool shower. Drink 6-8 glasses of water per day to speed up the healing process.


Take a walk. Do deep breathing exercises. Talk to your support buddy. Think of the positive reasons for quitting and the rewards you will be able to achieve. Take some time by yourself. Do a favorite hobby.


Take a warm bath or shower. Try relaxation or meditation techniques. Do more physical activities. Cut down on coffee and cola drinks.

Increase on Appetite

Craving for a cigarette can be confused with hunger pangs or a simple craving for oral stimulation. For years, your mouth was stimulated every time a cigarette landed between your lips. This has now been removed. Up to several weeks What can I do?
Drink water or low-calorie liquids. Be prepared with low-calorie and low-fat snacks (celery, pretzels, carrots, popcorn, melba toast); chew a toothpick, chew gum, munch on raw vegetables.


Nicotine affects brain wave function. This can influence sleep patterns and dreams about smoking are common. 1 week  Take a hot, relaxing bath, avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, pop) after 6:00pm Try relaxing at bedtime with a glass of warm milk, deep breathing and relaxation techniques. Work on a hobby.

Irritability, grouchy, tense

The body is craving for nicotine. Tobacco smokers are in a chronic state of nervous stimulation. Many of the symptoms quitters experience are the result of the nervous system returning to normal. It normally last for 1-2 weeks. Deep breathe, take walks, exercise, use relaxation techniques, chew nicotine gum, cut down on coffee and pop.

Lack of concentration

The body needs time to adjust to not having constant stimulation from nicotine. A few weeks Change activities, get some fresh air, exercise, deep breathe, listen to music, watch TV, do more physical activity, cut down on coffee and cola, plan workload accordingly, avoid situations that may trigger your desire to smoke.


Cigarettes are seen by many people as a close friend. Call a real friend. Go for a walk or a drive. Sing, pray.

Night Time awakenings

Cigarettes are seen by many people as a close friend. Call a real friend. Go for a walk or a drive. Sing, pray.


Exercise. Work on a hobby. Catch up on your chores. Do some extra jobs at work.

Tightness in the chest

It is probably due to tension created by the body’s need for nicotine; may be caused by sore muscles from coughing. Part of the recovery process may be the lung’s attempt to remove mucus and tar. The normal mucus transport system will start to reactivate itself, which can initially cause coughing. It will last a few days. Deep breathing and relaxation techniques. Be patient; wait it out! Your body wants to return to normal.

Weight gain

Weight gain from quitting smoking is very normal for most people and you can expect to put on 5-10 pounds over the period of several months. Remember that this extra weight gain is a lot better than continuing to smoke!

And the good news when you quit is that the withdrawal symptoms
get less intense and do go away!


Withdrawal symptom Duration Proportion of people affected
Irritability/aggression Less than 4 weeks 50%
Depression Less than 4 weeks 60%
Restlessness Less than 4 weeks 60%
Poor concentration Less than 2 weeks 60%
Increased appetite Greater than 10 weeks 70%
Light-headedness Less than 48 hours 10%
Night-time awakenings Less than a week 25%
Craving Greater than 2 weeks 70%


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