Nicotine is the main addictive substance in cigarettes and other forms of tobacco. And it affects many parts of your body‚ including your brain.
Over time‚ your body and brain get used to having nicotine. About 80−90% of people who smoke regularly are addicted to it. When you stop smoking‚ your body has to get used to not having it. That’s withdrawal--and it can be uncomfortable.
People trying to quit may crave cigarettes, feel sad or irritable and have trouble sleeping. Some have mild flu-like symptoms. For most people, the worst symptoms last a few days to a few weeks.
Preparing for Withdrawal
Withdrawal feelings usually are the strongest in the first week after quitting. This is when you are most at risk for a slip. Many people start smoking again to feel better. It helps to be prepared and know what to expect.
One way to be prepared is to use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). NRT can be helpful for dealing with withdrawal and managing cravings. Almost all smokers can use NRT safely.
Here are some other tools to have ready to help with withdrawal:
- SmokefreeTXT mobile text messaging service
- 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for information and tips on quitting
- Quit-smoking counselors at LiveHelp (cancer.gov).
- QuitGuide app for tips and inspiration to help you be smokefree.
Nicotine withdrawal is different for every smoker. The most common symptoms include:
- Craving for cigarettes
- Feeling down or sad
- Having trouble sleeping
- Feeling irritable‚ on edge‚ or grouchy
- Having trouble thinking clearly and concentrating
- Feeling restless and jumpy
- Having a slower heart rate
- Feeling more hungry or gaining weight
Over time, the symptoms and cravings will fade as long as you stay smoke-free.
For many smokers, the craving for a cigarette lasts much longer than other symptoms of withdrawal. And cravings sometimes happen without warning. They can be set off by reminders of smoking, or triggers. Be sure to have a plan for how you'll handle a craving when it hits.
The good news is that most cravings last for only 15-20 minutes. Anything that can distract you and keep you busy for that length of time can help. Most smokers who try nicotine replacement therapy find it helpful for getting through withdrawal and managing cravings.
Withdrawal Isn’t Dangerous
Nicotine withdrawal can be uncomfortable and some people feel symptoms more severely than others. But there is no health danger from withdrawal. In fact‚ quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health. Even extreme withdrawal symptoms will fade over time.
Some people feel increased sadness after they quit smoking. Watch for this, especially if you’ve ever had depression. Take a quick quiz to find out if you have signs of depression. If you become depressed or are having extreme sadness, let a friend or family member know, and think about talking to your doctor.
Learn more about the effect of nicotine on your body and get more tips and tools for quitting at Smokefree.gov*
* Provides free, accurate, evidence-based information and professional assistance to help support the immediate and long-term needs of people trying to quit smoking.
For one-on-one coaching or to enroll in our QCARE Kick the Nic!† stopping tobacco use program, call 800.235.7111 or 501.228.7111 and ask to speak to a Care Manager.
† Health plans vary. Check with your employer or plan administrator to see if QCARE is included.