How To Conquer The Effects Of Nicotine Withdrawal

Nowadays, we all know that cigarette smoking is hazardous to our health. But, it hasn't always been that way. Prior to the 1950s, cigarettes were largely marketed as harmless due to insufficient research on their health effects (per History). However, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act was passed in 1969, mandating warning labels on all cigarette packages and declaring cigarette smoking harmful to our health, as confirmed by the Surgeon General via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Eventually, there was ample evidence to suggest that there was a strong link between cigarette smoking and developing lung cancer, along with a host of other health problems.

The nicotine found in cigarettes is now regarded as a highly addictive substance, according to Healthline. Nicotine, along with other harmful chemicals is derived from the tobacco plant. Risks associated with tobacco use include heart disease, stroke, chronic bronchitis, gum disease, infertility, and a weakened immune system, among many others.

Even though smoking cigarettes is bad for your health, it doesn't mean it's an easy behavior to quit, especially if someone has already become dependent on nicotine. In fact, many individuals have a difficult time quitting smoking or consuming nicotine. Smokers who try to quit can experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that tempt them to smoke again. However, there is hope for those who want to quit smoking. Let's discuss how one can manage the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal so they can succeed in their conquest of quitting for good.

Coping with irritability and other mood changes

Anger and irritability may be experienced by individuals who are in the process of quitting nicotine. According to the National Cancer Institute, mood changes are a common symptom of nicotine withdrawal. Within one week of quitting, someone may experience the height of these mood disturbances, which can sometimes last between two and four weeks. As a result of these fluctuations in mood, someone may be quick to get angry and more inclined to get into arguments. 

Individuals experiencing these symptoms can take steps to defuse their anger, like taking time to meditate or treating themselves with a relaxing massage (per Insider). Additionally, staying active may relieve the anger and stress associated with withdrawal. Those who feel frustrated may find that cutting back on products containing caffeine, like coffee and soda, could also help them become more relaxed, as explained by the National Cancer Institute.

Along with feelings of anger and frustration, quitting smoking can trigger feelings of depression and anxiety. It's been observed that nicotine influences the reward centers in the brain and boosts levels of dopamine, according to The Recovery Village. However, when you quit smoking, your brain produces less dopamine than it was producing when you were smoking, which could contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety (per Mental Health Foundation). A person experiencing these negative feelings could cope by focusing on rewarding activities, such as spending time with supportive loved ones and working towards personal goals.

Managing restlessness and trouble sleeping

People who enjoy their beauty sleep and are on a mission to quit smoking won't be happy to hear that nicotine withdrawal has been associated with sleep disturbances. Nicotine withdrawal was reported to contribute to insomnia in approximately 42% of people who have quit smoking, according to a 2019 article published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research. Symptoms of withdrawal can be so intense that they keep someone awake at night, and those who don't get enough sleep may feel tired and lethargic the following day (per ResMed). 

An individual's insomnia may peak three days after they last used nicotine, and can be at its most severe during the first week of quitting, as per Medical News Today. Fortunately, these sleep problems typically last only a short period of time. However, it's possible that insomnia could trigger a relapse, so learning how to cope with withdrawal-induced insomnia is important.

There are ways that someone experiencing insomnia from nicotine withdrawal can wind themselves down at night. As reported in SingleCare, by creating a relaxing bedtime routine, the brain can produce its own relaxing neurotransmitters without nicotine. For example, practicing meditation, listening to relaxing music, taking a warm bath, or reading a book before bed can relax the body and promote better sleep. Additionally, cell phones emit blue light that disrupts our circadian rhythm, so putting your phone away before bedtime can help you get a better night's sleep as you recover from your withdrawal symptoms.

Dealing with increased appetite and weight gain

As well as affecting your sleep, nicotine withdrawal can stimulate your appetite and sometimes lead to weight gain, as explained by Smokefree. People who quit smoking may notice that they have a better sense of smell and taste than they had while smoking. This can make food taste more appetizing, which could increase someone's cravings for food. In addition, people who quit smoking are more likely to crave sugary and high-calorie foods. The use of food as an oral substitute for nicotine is also a possible contributor to weight gain. 

In some cases, increased appetite and weight gain can last longer than other nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Smoking cessation can result in five to 10 pounds of weight gain for some individuals, explains MedlinePlus. People who smoke heavily may also gain more weight than lighter smokers.

Luckily, those who are quitting smoking can take steps to reduce the risk of overeating or gaining a substantial amount of weight. As well as helping the body burn calories, physical exercise helps to suppress cravings for unhealthy foods and cigarettes. When shopping at the grocery store, you can purchase healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, unsalted nuts, and low-fat yogurt, which could decrease your chances of overindulging in junk food. Rather than drinking alcohol and sugary beverages, you can also substitute them with sparkling water or herbal tea.

Fighting intense urges to smoke again

One especially challenging nicotine withdrawal symptom is the powerful urge to smoke again, which can sabotage someone's intention of quitting. As reported by the National Cancer Institute, nicotine withdrawal may cause both physical and psychological cravings due to the body's desire for nicotine. Cravings can start as soon as an hour or two after someone has last used tobacco, and can last for days or weeks. It's typical for cravings to diminish over time, although, it's possible to have mild cravings months or even years after quitting. 

Fortunately, one way to manage the urge to smoke again is to self-reflect and become aware of what triggers you to want to smoke. Knowing your own triggers will help you avoid smoking-related objects and situations, as well as devise a plan for coping when you feel urges to smoke (per Mental Health Foundation). People who routinely smoked at certain places or events may find it helpful to keep away from these situations. In addition, someone attempting to quit smoking would benefit from removing all nicotine products from their home. 

The sight or smell of cigarettes can be triggering, so it's important to tell your loved ones you are quitting so they don't smoke around you. When you experience urges, you can reach out to your friends and family for support. As an alternative to smoking, you can also chew on hard candy or sugarless gum to keep your mouth busy, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Treatment options for nicotine withdrawal

There's no doubt that your health will benefit from making the courageous decision to quit smoking. Luckily, there are treatments available to help people stop smoking, including nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), according to the National Health Service (NHS). With NRT, the body receives small amounts of nicotine without tar, carbon monoxide, or other poisonous chemicals. Thus, withdrawal symptoms are reduced. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the treatment can be purchased over the counter or obtained through a prescription from your doctor. Treatment typically lasts about eight to 12 weeks and can be delivered as skin patches, chewing gum, inhalers, oral tablets, and nasal or mouth sprays (via NHS). However, if you are someone with a history of kidney or liver problems or have had a heart attack or stroke in the recent past, it's wise to consult your doctor before beginning NRT. 

In addition to NRT, the FDA cleared Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) as a potential therapeutic method for quitting smoking. According to, studies have suggested that TMS treatment may reduce cravings related to triggering cues. Importantly, the FDA doesn't approve e-cigarettes as a healthy method of quitting smoking. To quit smoking and improve your overall health, speak with your primary care physician about your treatment options.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).