Looking Closely at the Hard Facts of Smoking Withdrawal
If you are a smoker, we recommended that you quit now. If you quit smoking now reduces the risk of cancer, disease, numerous illnesses, and adverse health effects.
Nicotine withdrawal is the primary side effect of quitting smoking. It is also the primary reason so many people fail in their attempts to quit smoking every day. In fact, the American Cancer Society reported that the success rates for those attempting to quit smoking without the aid of medicines are between 4% and 7%. This startlingly low statistical success rate is accompanied by further statistical evidence which shows individuals who attempt to quit smoking with the help of medicines or nicotine replacement therapies only have a 25% chance of remaining smoke-free for longer than six months. This means that even with the help of prescribed medicines, an individual trying to quit smoking has a 75% chance of failure within the first six months.
Depending on how much you smoke and for how long, the symptoms begin within the first two hours of putting out a cigarette. The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal may also begin as early as 30 minutes after your last cigarette. The brain of a smoker becomes dependent on these regular “doses” of nicotine in order to maintain its current standard of functionality. Once these “doses” cease, the brain’s standard of normal functionality begins to alter. Here is a timeline in regards to nicotine withdrawal:
Smoking Withdrawal: The Acute Phase
The acute phase is what we regard as the first week of battling through nicotine withdrawal. It is during this time that nicotine withdrawal symptoms are at their strongest, and this is the time that most attempts to quit smoking often fail. The first few hours are extremely difficult. During this time you will experience intense cravings for a cigarette, followed by anxiety, anger or irritation, and a decrease in brain function. This leads to attention problems and results in difficulty completing certain tasks. A person’s ability to focus will diminish – which may cause issues at the workplace.
These symptoms only intensify as the day goes on, leading into the next. Over the next six days, you will experience numerous adverse effects of nicotine withdrawal. These symptoms last well beyond the first week and often last up to 6 weeks or more. According to addictionresource.com, symptoms include:
- Mild to severe depression
- Restlessness of the hands and mind
- Intense feelings of boredom
- Nausea or dizziness
- Heartburn and other gastrointestinal complications
- Sudden shifts in mood
- Sore or dry throat
- Abnormal or decreased heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Tingling of the extremities
- Sweats, hot flashes or chills
- Increase of appetite
- Feelings of anxiety
- Diarrhea or constipation
The First Day
Around 12 hours after your last cigarette, your respiratory system will start to feel the effects. The carbon monoxide which you inhale with your cigarettes bonds to your blood cells. It makes it difficult to breathe at times, and it can cause you to feel exhausted or out of breath after short exertions.
However, around the 24-hour mark, this toxin will un-bond from your blood cells, and your respiratory system will start to get back to its old self. The effects of carbon monoxide may never fully heal, but you will notice an improvement in your ability to sustain energy and exertion levels for longer.
The Next Day
Your cravings will be worse by the next day, and many regular smokers cave in at this point. Your anxiety will be greater, and you may suffer from shaking fingers.
However, at the same time, your risk of heart attack will be greatly reduced. Smokers are at a high risk of heart attack when they smoke regularly, but even after just a day of not inhaling smoke, they will cut their chance of heart attack significantly.
Two Days Later
Once you stop smoking, about 48 hours later your nerve endings will begin to heal. This means that you will have increased sensation on your extremities and you will be able to taste things better. As your sense of taste and smell return, you may be more prone to notice cigarette smoke nearby, and your cravings will only have gotten worse.
Three Days Later
At this point, nicotine will be completely out of your system. Meaning your cravings will be at their peak, and you will suffer the severe symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. You will feel emotional symptoms, such as cravings and the need to hold a cigarette or other similar object. Also, you will feel physical symptoms as well. These include nausea, headaches, and cramps. Different people will experience these in individual ways.
Weeks 2 – 4
Continuing the withdrawal symptoms into week two is exhausting. As your body chemistry adjusts to function without nicotine, it will suffer moderate to severe changes in energy levels. Your body may feel tired more often, or become tired faster. Also, fatigue with bouts of insomnia is common.
You may experience weight gain, as your body will attempt to supplement the actions of smoking with eating. This may also lead to unhealthy eating habits.
Insomnia and restlessness may become more prevalent. As with any form of sleep deprivation, your cognitive function will decrease.
In addition to the symptoms listed in the acute phase, these new additions can cause issues and complications in regards to the individual’s daily routine. According to drug.addictionblog.org, common prescriptions to aid in overcoming the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are:
- Antidepressants – The antidepressant bupropion is FDA-approved and can help people quit smoking. The brand name for bupropion is Zyban.
- Nicotine replacement therapy – Nicotine replacement therapy supplies enough nicotine to the body to prevent withdrawal symptoms but not enough to provide the quick jolt caused by inhaling a cigarette. Nicotine gum or skin patches are available over the counter, but you need a prescription to use nicotine nasal spray and nicotine inhalers.
- Smoking cessation medicines – Varenicline tartrate (Chantix) is also used for smoking cessation. These medications are non-nicotine based but still act at the sites in the brain affected by nicotine. Ask your doctor about this new generation of medicine which may help you quit nicotine dependence by easing withdrawal symptoms and blocking the effects of nicotine if you start smoking again.”
Most people, however, do not wish to begin taking antidepressants. Nicotine replacement therapies, even the patch, only hold about a 25% success rate. Further, smoking cessation medications hold a high risk for adverse side effects – some of which are very serious and could be life-threatening. According to WebMD, the possible side effects from Chantix range from, “Nausea, headache, vomiting, drowsiness, gas, constipation, trouble sleeping, unusual dreams, or changes in taste, chest/jaw/left arm pain, weakness on one side of the body, severe headache, vision changes, confusion, slurred speech, and seizure.” More severe side effects are, “rash, itching/swelling (especially of the face/tongue/throat), severe dizziness, and trouble breathing.”
The effects of nicotine withdrawal may last for upwards of six weeks before dissipating. However, as many ex-smokers can attest, the craving may last significantly longer. Beyond the scope of nicotine withdrawal is also combating the “habit” of smoking. This is the actual routine and actions made while smoking. If nicotine withdrawal were not already difficult enough, this area of the addiction only adds to the range of difficulties presented while attempting to quit smoking.
Even the heaviest of smokers will lose all their withdrawal symptoms after a month or two. Moreover, the lungs will be in the process of repair, and your risk of heart disease will decrease by as much as 50 percent over the next months.
In the following months and years, your body will have more healing to do, and you will continue to lower your risks for numerous diseases.
Smoking Withdrawal: The Solution
There is a viable solution to avoid the complications surrounding quitting smoking. There is a way to avoid the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal altogether, while simultaneously circumventing the “habit.”
A new study finds that, among people who are trying to quit without professional help, those who use electronic cigarettes are 60% more likely to succeed, compared with those who use willpower or nicotine replacement therapies.Dr. Michael Siegel
- Dr Michael Siegel is a professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health.
Many people fail because they lost the focus they had on quitting. The cravings caught them off guard, and their mind was not prepared with the proper defenses. This can happen to anyone, but it does not have to happen to you. You need to surround yourself with constant reminders about why you are quitting and be prepared for the cravings when they come.
You can do this in a number of ways. The best way is to stay close to people who are determined to help you quit. Keep them near you and ensure that they are on your side when it comes to quitting.
You can also get constant reminders about why you are trying to quit. Hanging up posters in your home or work that remind you why you are trying to quit or that showcase the dangers of smoking can be a great way to keep your motivation ever-present.
When you quit, you are going to find yourself in a lot of situations where there is stress or boredom, and at these times you would have normally taken out a cigarette. However, you are going to have to find ways to keep yourself busy if you want to avoid that compulsion to smoke. Maybe you liked to smoke just before going into work to calm your nerves. Instead, spend that time talking to someone who supports your quitting or visiting quit smoking forums on your phone. There you will find the encouragement you need to stay focused and keep on the path to freedom from your habit.
E-cigarettes allow you to choose the amount of nicotine you consume and allow you to decrease the nicotine strength at your own pace. You can do this while keeping the e-liquid flavor of your choice. Nicotine strength decreases all the way down to 0% nicotine. E-cigarettes also do not rely on combustion or smoke. They employ a simple heating element which vaporizes the e-liquid. The result is thick, rich vapor which simulates the look and feels of smoke.