Nicotine makes tobacco addictive, so quitting smoking can be difficult. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on how long you’ve smoked and how much you smoke daily.

Nicotine can be as addictive as other drugs, including alcohol, cocaine, and morphine. It can cause effects such as:

  • boosting mood
  • reducing depression
  • reducing irritability
  • enhancing concentration and short-term memory
  • producing a sense of well-being
  • reducing appetite

In addition to nicotine, tobacco is thought to contain about 70 carcinogens. These chemicals can result in the development of smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

In an effort to prevent these diseases, millions of smokers attempt to quit each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 68% of smokers say they want to quit completely, as of 2015.

Nicotine withdrawal makes it more difficult to quit. Read on to learn how to manage the symptoms that occur when you stop using this addictive substance.

The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal can begin within 30 minutes of your last use of tobacco and will depend on your level of addiction.

Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal for smokers include:

Symptoms of withdrawal for people who use chewing tobacco are quite similar. They include:

Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal typically peak within 2-3 days.

Your cravings are caused by nicotine receptors in the brain. These receptors are increased in response to your previous nicotine use. The receptors will make you want to continue smoking. Ignoring those receptors leads to withdrawal symptoms.

However, as you ignore them, they begin to disappear. Withdrawal symptoms often go away in two to four weeks. Some people may experience nicotine withdrawal for several months.

If you decide to quit smoking, contact your doctor to discuss ways to manage your withdrawal symptoms. They may be able to provide you with access to prescription medication or information about support groups in your community.

Several different treatment options are available for nicotine withdrawal. They include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) nicotine replacement medications: Examples include nicotine gum and skin patches.
  • Prescription nicotine replacement methods: Examples include inhalers and nasal sprays.
  • Non-nicotine prescription medications: These include certain nicotine agonist medications, as well as some antidepressant medications.

Pros and cons of NRT

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is meant for people who smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day. Products can help reduce symptoms by slowly decreasing the amount of nicotine in your body.

NRT products are helpful, but they aren’t a cure-all. Most people still experience some withdrawal symptoms. If you have an emotional connection to smoking, NRT can’t take that away.

Some common side effects of popular NRT products include:

NRT products have been associated with increased blood pressure, though a 2016 study showed that NRT isn’t likely to increase blood pressure.

While some people have experienced heart attacks while using a nicotine patch and smoking at the same time, the increase in blood pressure comes from the increased nicotine from both sources and not from the patch itself. Therefore, when the patch is used correctly, it isn’t likely to increase blood pressure.

If you do notice an increase in blood pressure, talk to your doctor to make sure you’re taking the right dose.

That said, the possible negative effects of smoking still outweigh the potential side effects in most cases, according to recent research.

Pros and cons of non-nicotine prescription medications

Treatment may also include the use of non-nicotine prescription medications, such as bupropion (Zyban, Wellbutrin SR, Wellbutrin XL, Aplenzin, and Forfivo XL) or varenicline (Chantix, Tyrvaya, Champix).

That said, these can have some side effects. For example, bupropion, which is also often prescribed to treat depression, might make it harder to sleep.

Similarly, varenicline can cause insomnia and vivid dreams, among other side effects. These medications could also increase the chance of developing seizures or suicidal thoughts.

Quitting cold turkey

You also have the option to quit “cold turkey,” which quitting without the use of nicotine replacements or other supportive medications. Your withdrawal symptoms will be stronger, but a plan can help get you through the rough patch. The following tips may help you quit successfully:

  • Choose a specific date to stop smoking. This will ideally be when you don’t have too much on your calendar.
  • Make a list of your personal reasons for quitting.
  • Remind yourself that the withdrawal symptoms are only temporary.
  • Reach out to friends and family for support.
  • Join a support group.

A 2016 study found that quitting abruptly can be as effective as quitting gradually.

A 2019 study also found that those who stop suddenly are more likely to quit smoking successfully than those who stop gradually when combined with behavioral intervention.

That said, if you are considering quitting cold turkey, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor first. You may also benefit from the help of others who are trying to quit as well. Joining a smoking cessation program or a support group may increase your chances of success.

Nicotine withdrawal isn’t a life-threatening condition. However, you may notice some physical or mood changes once you quit smoking.

Increased appetite and weight gain

When you stop smoking, your taste buds and sense of smell will return to normal. While this is a positive side effect, you may notice that you crave food more often than you did before you began smoking.

Additionally, some people begin to crave foods high in fat and sugar, even if they didn’t crave these things before smoking, which can lead to weight gain.

The following tips can help you manage cravings and minimize weight gain:

Food cravings

  • Practice the “four Ds”: Delay your cravings for a few minutes, drink a glass of water, distract yourself with something else, or practice deep breathing.
  • Choose healthy snack food, such as carrots, raw nuts, or low-fat yogurt.
  • Keep your hands and mouth busy with a toothpick or straw.
  • Eat more slowly. Enjoy the flavors of your food.
  • Avoid distractions while eating, such as watching TV. Be mindful of when you’re hungry and when you’re just bored.
  • Exercise. Even a walk around the block can help you manage your weight.
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Talk to your primary care provider if you have concerns about your weight. They may be able to help you identify helpful strategies.

Mental health changes

Some people may also experience mental health issues. People who’ve had episodes of depression in the past may experience a relapse. This may also occur for people who’ve had bipolar disorder or other substance use disorders.

Depression associated with nicotine withdrawal is often temporary and subsides with time. Depression is a treatable condition, but it can be life-threatening if it’s left untreated. If you have a history of depression, talk to your doctor about ways to manage your symptoms during smoking cessation.

Whether you quit cold turkey or use NRT, you’ll experience some nicotine withdrawal. There’s no way to avoid this process, but you can get through it. Here are some ways to combat common withdrawal symptoms.

Dry mouth and sore throat

Drink plenty of water, chew sugar-free gum, or suck on sugar-free candy.


Practice deep breathing exercises or take a bath. You can also use OTC pain medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Difficulty sleeping

Turn off or put away electronic devices one to two hours before bedtime. Create a bedtime ritual, such as reading, taking a shower or warm bath, or listening to soothing music. Drink a glass of herbal tea or warm milk, and avoid caffeine or heavy meals before bed.

Difficulty concentrating

Take frequent breaks. Try not to overdo it. Make to-do lists, and give yourself plenty of time to complete tasks.

How long do nicotine withdrawals last?

Withdrawal symptoms are usually strongest within the first week after quitting and taper off gradually afterward, though some people may experience symptoms for a few months.

Because overcoming nicotine withdrawal is often the most difficult part of quitting smoking, people most commonly relapse within the first two weeks after quitting.

How bad is withdrawal from vaping?

The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal from vaping are similar to those of nicotine smoking and chewing. They can include mood changes, insomnia, and increased hunger.

There are many situations in your daily life that may intensify symptoms of nicotine withdrawal or trigger a smoking relapse.

It can help to identify your triggers and try to avoid them if you can. In general, the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal pass quickly.

Once the symptoms of withdrawal stop, you may still experience long-term cravings for tobacco. Curbing these cravings will be important for long-term success.

Many people can manage cravings by avoiding triggers, engaging in moderate physical activity, and practicing deep breathing exercises. Finding ways to relax can curb cravings as well, such as listening to music, walking, taking up a hobby, and spending time with friends and family.

Another helpful tip is to substitute carrots, gum, or hard candy for cigarettes. These can curb the psychological need to smoke.

Many people also try more than once to quit. It’s important not to give up even if you relapse. The more you try to quit, the more likely you’ll succeed.