Coping with Nicotine Withdrawal

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on 30 September 2010
Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH

Coping with Nicotine Withdrawal

Cigarettes, chewing tobacco, pipes, and cigars are all made with dried tobacco leaves, which naturally contain the drug nicotine. Manufacturers of these products add additional nicotine, as well as a host of other chemicals and additives, to make smoking more enjoyable. One report suggests there are as many as 7,000 different chemicals in one cigarette. These additives can have disastrous effects on your health.

Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

Nicotine dependence causes an addiction to tobacco products. If and when you try to quit, you may face any number of nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Most people who try to quit deal with at least one. These symptoms can include:

  • fatigue
  • headache
  • dry mouth
  • cough
  • irritability
  • depression
  • strong cravings to smoke
  • constipation
  • anxiety

As a rule, people who have smoked for a longer period of time and those who smoke at a higher volume (a larger number of cigarettes in a day) have the greatest likelihood of nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms may also be made worse at certain times of day or in certain places. Your mind may unconsciously associate a variety of places, people, or times with smoking and set off a trigger to smoke.

The Problem with “Cold Turkey”

The physical withdrawal from nicotine is only temporary, but it can be difficult to cope with your body’s reaction. If you choose to quit without the assistance of a smoking-cessation aid (sometimes known as quitting “cold turkey”), withdrawal usually begins two to three hours after you last smoke, and the symptoms are likely to get worse for several days. Peak withdrawal occurs about three days after your last smoke. Then, as your body becomes accustomed to not having the nicotine, symptoms of withdrawal will subside.

Some smokers are fearful of these withdrawal symptoms and choose to quit nicotine in a milder manner. This can be done with the help of low-nicotine cigarettes or smoking-cessation aids, such as gums, patches, and prescription medicine.

Managing Nicotine Withdrawal

No matter how you do it, you will likely encounter withdrawal symptoms at some point in your quit-smoking journey. You do not have to give in to these symptoms and give up your quest to be smoke-free. Here are a few tips for coping with your withdrawal symptoms.

Exercise

Nicotine can improve mood and may give you a false sense of well-being. Without the drug, you may begin to feel slightly depressed. Thirty minutes of exercise each day can help beat the sagging feeling of fatigue and depression by boosting natural “feel-good” endorphins in your body. Exercise may also help you sleep better. For the best results, avoid exercising right before you turn in; give yourself three to four hours of downtime before you go to bed.

Sleep & Rest

Your body is going through a lot of change as it works to rid itself of the nicotine dependence. If you feel more tired or sleepy, it is OK to take a nap or go to bed a bit earlier. Your body still detoxes while you are asleep.

Distract Yourself

If you replace your cravings for nicotine with food, you may see the number on the scale increase. This is another reason people put off quitting—fear of gaining weight. Find a distraction other than food when you begin craving a cigarette. You might try playing a game, reading your favorite website, or going for a run. The goal is to get yourself away from the temptation and busy focusing on a different idea.

Make Your Life Smoke-Free

Ask friends and family members to respect your new lifestyle and refrain from smoking around you. This may mean asking them to smoke only outside and not in your house or car. You remove your temptation, and you may also encourage them to rethink their habit. It can be a win-win.

Manage Stress

In the past, you turned to cigarettes as a quick pick-me-up when times were stressful—but no more. Now you have to find techniques to deal with everyday stress in a healthier way. Physical activity—walking, cleaning the house, or gardening—can help you reduce your stress while keeping your mind off any cravings. Deep-breathing techniques or meditation can help you find calm and avoid taking stress out in less constructive ways. Whatever way you find works best for you, remember to turn to that when you need to let off some steam.

Turn to Your Accountability Partner

Be honest, and tell them about your withdrawal. Also, let them know the rationalizations you’re making: “Just one cigarette won’t set me back too much” or “I’ll smoke a cigarette just this once to get through this craving.”

Your partner can help you identify ways you are sabotaging your quit-smoking plan, and can provide the support and encouragement to get through the craving.

Celebrate Milestones

Congratulations! You have reached a milestone. You made it a whole day without smoking. Reward yourself when you reach your goals—a day, a week, a month, six months of being cigarette-free. That way, when you are telling yourself “one cigarette won’t hurt,” you can focus on the prize you have set up as celebration for being strong. Treat yourself to some downtime—maybe indulge in a bubble bath, slip away to watch your favorite TV show, or take yourself out to a movie. And plan for tomorrow’s mini celebration so you will have something to look forward to when a craving sets in.

Was this article helpful? Yes No

Thank you.

Your message has been sent.

We're sorry, an error occurred.

We are unable to collect your feedback at this time. However, your feedback is important to us. Please try again later.

Article Sources:

  • CDC - Coverage for Tobacco Use Cessation Treatments - Benefits Summary - Smoking & Tobacco Use. (n.d.). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 15, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/quit_smoking/cessation/coverage/page1/index.htm
  • How to quit. (n.d.). American Cancer Society | Information and Resources for Cancer: Breast, Colon, Lung, Prostate, Skin. Retrieved October 15, 2012, from http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/guide-to-quitting-smoking-how-to-quit
  • Smokefree.gov: Quit Guide: Medicines That Help With Withdrawal. (n.d.).   Smokefree.gov. Retrieved October 15, 2012, from http://www.smokefree.gov/qg-preparing-medicines.aspx

Recommended for You

The Best Quit Smoking iPhone & Android Apps of the Year
The Best Quit Smoking iPhone & Android Apps of the Year
This collection of top-rated apps just might be what you need to stop smoking. Take a look, and click, tap, and swipe your way to better health.
The Best Quit Smoking Blogs of the Year
The Best Quit Smoking Blogs of the Year
Read through these blogs, diaries, and sites for guidance on kicking the habit for good. Soon you’ll be able to say, “So long, cigarettes!”
Best Anti-Smoking Videos of 2013
Best Anti-Smoking Videos of 2013
Smoking cigarettes is a terrible habit. Take a step closer to a smoke-free life with helpful tips from the best anti-smoking videos from 2013.
Timing May Be Everything
Timing May Be Everything
While “now” is the short answer to “When’s the best time to quit smoking,” it’s more complicated than that. Your success depends on many factors around timing.
What Happens When You Quit Smoking?
What Happens When You Quit Smoking?
Learn what happens when you quit smoking in a timeline that goes from 20 minutes to 20 years. Start reaping the health benefits now!
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement