Have you decided to stop smoking but struggling with the after-effects, or are curious to know how long does nicotine withdrawal last? Here’s what you should know.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every five deaths each year is caused by cigarette smoking. The CDC reveals cigarette smoking can shorten your life by ten years.
Secondhand smoke is related to about 41,000 deaths each year. Even smokeless tobacco is related to heart disorders. Many people have replaced cigarette smoking with vaping. Unfortunately, vape devices are just as harmful. The common denominator among all three actions is nicotine.
What is Nicotine?
Tobacco plants contain a chemical called nicotine, which can be addictive but not necessarily harmful. When manufacturers combine hundreds of chemicals with nicotine, it becomes a drug that can kill you. As reported by the Federal Drug Administration, it is the chemicals that produce the most harm.
That doesn’t make nicotine less addictive, though, and the nicotine is why someone continues to use tobacco even when they know the chemicals can harm them.
Why is Nicotine Addictive?
Nicotine is a mind-altering drug. When it enters the brain, neurotransmitters are released and flood into the brain’s reward center. Neurotransmitters are sometimes referred to as chemicals that make you feel good when they surge. However, when chemical levels drop, you may experience negative emotions and sometimes pain.
Out of the hundreds of other ingredients mixed with tobacco, several of them also have addictive qualities. For example, certain sugars are added to sweeten the taste of tobacco. Research shows sugar is addictive and causes the same brain reactions as other drugs, but for a shorter period.
Endorphins are the body’s natural pain relievers. Dopamine makes you feel pleasure and euphoria, and serotonin is connected to boosting mood. Nicotine triggers a surge in these three neurotransmitters, as well as others. With each inhalation of nicotine, a surge occurs.
The brain gets used to having help from nicotine for functioning and making you feel good. It becomes dependent on nicotine for survival. When you go without nicotine or try to stop using tobacco, the brain reacts by producing uncomfortable mental and physical withdrawal symptoms.
What Are Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms?
If you are using any type of tobacco product, including vaping, you can expect withdrawal symptoms to appear within a few hours and up to several weeks of going without nicotine. Withdrawal symptoms will likely include the following:
- Cravings for nicotine that, at times, may feel like obsessive thoughts
- Mood swings that make you irritable, agitated, or angry
- Mental health symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Concentration problems and the inability to stay focused
- Appetite changes such as feeling hungry more often
- Sleep disturbances like insomnia
- Digestive issues such as nausea, constipation, and cramping
- Tingling in your limbs
- Mild flu-like symptoms including headaches, sore throat, fever, and sweating
What Happens in the First 24 Hours After I Quit Nicotine?
The first few days of nicotine withdrawal are the worst. If you can make it through this time, and you can, your symptoms will begin to ease, and you will focus on preventing relapse. In the first four to six hours after your last ingestion of nicotine, you may start to feel restless. Your mind is racing, trying to figure out how to get more nicotine. You are craving nicotine.
Some reports suggest cravings are temporary, and finding a distraction each time you have a craving can help you get through them. At bedtime the first night, you may experience insomnia. While you lay there, wishing to fall asleep, you may notice tingling sensations. Believe it or not, these sensations are a great sign that your oxygen levels are returning to normal.
What Happens Between 24 and 48 Hours After I Quit Nicotine?
The second day and night will be filled with cravings, mood swings, and triggers. This period is manageable, though. Keep implementing distractions when you have a desire for nicotine. Be honest with everyone in your life that you are quitting nicotine and may seem irritable. Avoid triggers whenever possible.
If having coffee and a cigarette made up your morning routine, change it. Skip the coffee that will trigger a craving, and instead, walk around the block. Think of this phase as the brain retraining period. You are teaching your brain to become dependent on something healthy instead of nicotine.
What Happens Between 48 and 72 Hours After I Quit Nicotine?
Cravings are weakening but still occur. Be prepared with healthy distractions. You may start noticing the effects of the tar from tobacco leaving your system. Your lungs clear themselves through coughs. The other toxic chemicals exit the body through urine, bowel movements, and sweat.
What Happens After 72 Hours?
Cravings will diminish over time. There may be days when you do not experience any cravings. On other days you may encounter triggers that make it very hard to stay on track. Your body is continuing to return to a normal state. It is rebalancing hormones, blood sugars, blood pressure, digestion, heart rate, etc.
You may feel anxiety and depression during this time. This happens because your endorphins, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters continue to be out of balance. This will get better in time. It will not take long for you to notice the longer you go without nicotine, the better your mental health.
There are many steps you can take to make quitting nicotine a lot easier.
Tips to Help You Overcome Nicotine Withdrawal
While there are hundreds of tips to ease nicotine withdrawal, below are a few of the most common:
- Know your triggers and avoid them
- Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing
- Don’t drive the same way to routine places like work or while running errands to avoid triggers
- Avoid drinking alcohol in the beginning
- Fill your calendar with activities to prevent boredom, a known trigger
- Use nicotine replacement products such as patches, a prescription, gum, lozenges, nasal sprays, and inhalers