Quitting Smoking | Coping with Nicotine Withdrawal

Are you interested in quitting smoking? According to the World Health Organization— smoking kills half of those who partake in it, not to mention 600,000 people a year worldwide via second-hand smoke. This makes it the world’s foremost preventable killer.  However, the key word here is preventable

What is Nicotine?

Nicotine is a chemical that contains nitrogen, made naturally by several types of (nightshade) plants, including the tobacco plant. There’s about 20 mg of nicotine in 1 g of tobacco, compared to 0.0001 mg per 1 g of an eggplant. Eggplant contains the highest nicotine content of any vegetable. It would take 20 pounds of eggplant to equal one cigarette. That’s a lot of eggplant!

What is nicotine dependence?

Nicotine dependence, also called tobacco dependence, is an addiction to tobacco products caused by the drug nicotine. 

Why is nicotine so addictive?

As the most notorious chemical in tobacco, it’s easy to understand why nicotine is so vilified. When absorbed into the bloodstream or inhaled via cigarette smoke, nicotine causes a rush of the hormone know as adrenaline. 

Adrenaline is our survival, or ‘fight-or-flight’, hormone. It increases our heart rate in order to get our blood pumping and oxygen to our muscles and brain — especially under stressful conditions. Homo sapiens love adrenaline — we crave it. We go to the theaters for it. We perform daring stunts to feel the rush of it surge through our veins. It’s why many take up smoking during times of crisis. However, after long periods of cigarette use, quitting smoking or cutting back on your tobacco intake causes symptoms of withdrawal to rear its ugly head. 

What happens when I quit or cutback on cigarettes?

Studies, research, and millions of testimonies tell us that nicotine withdrawal is short-lived. The symptoms will pass in time — usually less than a week for some. As with most things, withdrawal is the most uncomfortable part of quitting a habit. When a substance is removed from our bodies, our minds develop a desire to revert back to our old ways.      

No two people are alike. Every smoker, when he or she decides to cutback or quit, will experience different symptoms. While we are all unique individuals, the most common symptoms that people will experience include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Mental fog
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • An increased appetite
  • Constipation
  • Cough
  • Cravings for cigarettes and other sources of nicotine

Below is the timeline of what you can expect after finishing your final cigarette, according to WebMD.com:

30 minutes to 4 hours:

  • The effects from nicotine will wear off and that craving for another cigarette will feel very, very strong.

10 hours:

  • You will become extremely restless — wondering how to fill the time. Your physical cravings for a cigarette will feel insatiable.  

After 24 hours:

  • Irritability kicks in and your appetite increases.

Day 2:

  • You’ll experience headaches as the nicotine leaves your system.

Day 3:

  • The nicotine will most likely be gone from your system by now. While your craving will have tapered off, you will begin to experience a rise in anxiety. 

1 week:

  • Give yourself a round of applause for making it this far as you are on the road to recovery. However, during this time, it is advised that you keep avoiding those tempting triggers. It is recommended that exercise be added to your daily routine. Go for walks. Take up cycling. Breathing exercises, such as yoga, have been said to deliver fresh oxygen to the brain, lower stress, and calm nerves. They will also improve your mood.  

2 to 4 weeks:

  • Your energy level will still be unusually low, but this is no cause for concern. The confusion and fogginess surrounding your brain will begin to clear up and your appetite for nicotine will start to settle down. You will start to notice an improvement in your mood. Basically, you will begin to feel human again. 

5 weeks on: 

  • The fight moves to your mind. Keeping a strong mental game from here on out is KEY!  

Quitting smoking takes more than just willpower — it takes knowledge. With this knowledge comes preparation. Slip-ups are to be expected and there is no shame to be had if one finds themselves going to back to cigarette smoking for a time. According to the American Cancer Society, it takes 8-10 attempts before a smoker is able to quit permanently. The CDC puts this number at around 8-11 attempts. 

A slip-up does not mean failure. Rather, you must consider of every smoke free day to be exactly what it is — a huge success!

As Winston Churchill once said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”


How do I quit smoking?

Would you plan a Hollywood bank heist without a plan? Probably not. Especially if you are hoping to disappear into the sunset with loads of cash and not spend the rest of your days behind bars (not recommended).

While quitting smoking is nothing like lifting a bank — one thing is for certain — no plan equals a recipe for disaster. 

There are many different ways to quit smoking. Here are several that have been said to work:

  1. Cold Turkey – Roughly 90% of people who try to quit will go it alone. This means, they will not employ the help of any aids, therapy, or medicine. 
  2. Behavioral Therapy – Talking with family, counselors or someone who has had success with quitting. 
  3. NRTs or Nicotine Replacement Therapies – Gums, patches, inhalers, sprays, lozenges and or e-cigarette products have worked for many people. 
  4. Vaping – Using electronic cigarettes has been very successful for many people recently who are gung-ho about quitting smoking.
  5. Medication – Prescription medications such as Zyban and Chantix can help with your cravings and symptoms from withdrawals, thus helping with quitting smoking. 
  6. Combination of Treatments – Using a combination of treatments may aid in your effort to quit smoking. Combinations such as using a nicotine patch while utilizing the gum may improve your chances.  

Why not quit cold turkey?

According to health.com, quitting smoking ‘cold turkey’ is difficult because smokers aren’t just addicted psychologically, but physically as well. It is said that somewhere between 4 and 7 percent of people who attempt to quit smoking are able to so it cold turkey. That’s a small percentage of the roughly 70 percent of smokers who desire to quit. In short, don’t go it alone. 

Going ‘cold turkey’ is defined as quitting smoking without any aids. People who use the cold turkey method may begin to feel withdrawal symptoms within hours of smoking their final cigarette. Medication, over-the-counter aids (more commonly known as Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRTs)), or vaping, help mitigate the stinging withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting. While going cold turkey is admirable, it is recommended that you prepare and take up methods to soften the transition from a lifestyle dependent on cigarettes, to one that is smoke free.   

Why should I use a NRT?

Despite the well documented side effects associated with Nicotine Replacement Therapies (lozenges, patches, vapes, gum and etc.), the benefit is that these methods do not contain any of the 599 additives, nor the cancer-causing agents that are found in cigarettes. Basically, NRTs enable a person to slowly wean off of nicotine until they are no longer dependent on it. 

Do nicotine replacement products have side effects?

All forms of nicotine replacement therapies have different side effects. Though rare, it is possible for a person to become dependent on a nicotine replacement product. See the link for more details on the effects of NRTs.  

How do I fill my time after I’ve had my final cigarette?

Think of all the benefits now that you have since you’ve made up your mind to quit smoking cigarettes. Aside from the changes in health — your clothes, hair and breath will smell light years better. Your appearance will begin to improve and your pockets will stay fatter for a longer period of time. 

But during this transition, you will need to fill your time. As they say, idle time is the devil’s time, so take up all those old tasks you have been putting off. Clean out the attic or sort through all that old junk you have harbored in your garage. Build a garden. Plant a tree. Create a beautiful, new environment that gives you joy and satisfaction. 

As Mahatma Gandhi once said:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.” 

With that said, the most important thing to keep in mind is that — in this new phase of life — it is critically important that you disrupt any and all habitual patterns. While the addictiveness of nicotine is a very real thing, it is our old habits that tempt us. 

Why am I gaining weight after quitting smoking?

Weight gain is a common occurrence when quitting smoking. Weigh the pros and cons. On the one hand, you may experience some minor weight gain, but on the other hand, you are regaining your health. If you find yourself consistently putting on weight, try increasing your weekly physical activity and decrease your caloric intake and sugar.   

Why can’t I quit?

The first step is admitting you have an “issue”.  The word “problem” seems so negative. 

Wanting to quit something that you know is not good for your health deserves a congratulatory pat on the back. You’re just one step from success, but it’s a step most smokers miss. This is a missed realization that can contribute to their downfall. 

For example, Whyquit.com says the “Law of Addiction” is the most important quitting lesson of all. Just one puff of nicotine will result in up to 50 percent f nicotinic-type brain acetylcholine receptors being occupied by nicotine. This creates a powerful dopamine explosion that the mind’s pay attention pathways will, in the short term, make it nearly impossible to forget. When quitting, the quitter (the word “quitter” is a good name in this situation) isn’t battling an entire pack or even a whole cigarette, but just that one powerful puff of nicotine that will destroy their hard work and all but guarantee a relapse. 

How do I bounce back from a slip-up?

Slip-ups are to be expected. Embrace them and learn from them and most importantly, don’t allow your mind to pull you down. Use these setbacks to fall forward, not backward. 

When will I know whether or not I am free of my addiction?

You’ll know when. When those hunger pangs for cigarettes diminished and when your triggers no longer have dominion over you, you’ll know you are winning the fight.  

You may also like our article on stepping down on nicotine levels!

Caroline Sparks

Writer, Vaper, Advocate Have an idea? Comment below!