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 nicotine, as well as a host of other chemicals and additives, to make smoking more enjoyable. According to the American Lung Association, there are about 600 ingredients in cigarettes. When you light a cigarette, those 600 ingredients create over 7,000 chemicals. These additives can have disastrous effects on your health. Many smokers experience difficulty quitting because of their addiction to nicotine.

Nicotine dependence causes an addiction to tobacco products. You may experience one or more symptoms of withdrawal when you stop smoking. These symptoms include:

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

People who have smoked for a longer period of time or smoked a large number of cigarettes in a day are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. Your symptoms might be worse at certain times of day or in certain places. Your mind may also associate a variety of places, people, or times of day with smoking.

The physical withdrawal from nicotine is only temporary, but it can be difficult to cope with your body’s reaction. Smoking cessation aids can help you manage the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Quitting smoking without any aids is known as quitting “cold turkey.” People who use the cold turkey approach may begin to feel withdrawal symptoms as soon as two hours after their last cigarette. Symptoms will start to get worse the longer it has been since you last smoked.

Peak withdrawal occurs about three days after your last cigarette. Then, as your body becomes accustomed to not having the nicotine, symptoms of withdrawal will subside.

Just as there are multiple types of cigarettes available, there are numerous kinds of smoking cessation aids that can help you resist the temptation to light up. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are five types of cessation aids that specifically help with nicotine withdrawal:

  • nicotine patches: Habitrol, Nicoderm, Nicotrol, and Prostep
  • nicotine gum: Nicorette
  • OTC lozenges: Commit
  • inhalers: Nicotrol (available by prescription only)
  • nasal spray: Nicotrol (prescription only)

The above methods work by providing the body with small amounts of nicotine. Over time, as you keep taking the product, you will decrease the amount of nicotine that you use. The idea is to help gradually decrease nicotine dependence without the difficulties of quitting cold turkey.

There are also prescription oral medications available for smoking cessation. These include the brand names Wellbutrin and Zyban. These drugs do not specifically address nicotine withdrawal. Instead, they work by sending chemical messages to the brain to mimic the effects of nicotine.

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.


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 best results, avoid exercising right before you go to bed. Give yourself three to four hours of downtime before you go to bed.

Sleep and Rest

Your body is going through a lot of change as it works to rid itself of the nicotine dependence. It’s normal to feel extra tired while you are going through nicotine withdrawal. Take naps, or go to bed earlier. Your body still detoxes while you’re asleep.

Distract Yourself

Sometimes people gain weight when they are trying to quit smoking, because they try to satisfy their cravings for a cigarette with food. 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 walk. 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.

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, such as walking, cleaning the house, or gardening can help you reduce your stress while keeping your mind off of nicotine 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. 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.

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. Plan ahead for tomorrow’s mini celebration so you will have something to look forward to when a craving sets in.