Withdrawal Fact Sheet

The symptoms of withdrawal include mild to severe depression, abnormal heart-rate, feelings of anxiety, and more. Smoking cessation aids can help to eliminate the symptoms of withdrawal.


If you are a smoker, it is recommended that you quit now. Quitting smoking now greatly 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 each and 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:

Acute Phase

The acute phase is generally regarded as the first week of battling through nicotine withdrawal. It is during this time that nicotine withdrawal symptoms are at their strongest. This is the time that most attempts to quit often fail. The first few hours are extremely difficult. During this time you will experience intense cravings for a cigarette. This is followed by anxiety, anger or irritation, and a decrease in brain function. This leads to attention problems. This results in difficulty completing certain tasks. The ability to focus is diminished. This 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
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea or constipation

Weeks 2 – 4

Continuing the withdrawal symptoms into week two is fatigue. As your body chemistry adjusts to functioning without nicotine, it will suffer moderate to severe waning energy levels. Your body may feel tired more often, or you may tire very easily. Fatigue with bouts of insomnia is common.

You will have increased tobacco cravings. Your body will fight for the nicotine levels it has become accustomed to.

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:

  1. Antidepressants – The antidepressant bupropion is FDA-approved and can help people quit smoking. The brand name for bupropion is Zyban.
  2. Nicotine replacement therapyNicotine 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.
  3. 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.


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.

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 feel of smoke.

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