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Nicotine Withdrawal: Symptoms to Watch Out For

Nicotine Withdrawal: Symptoms to Watch Out For

Smoking is dangerous to your health and the health of those around you. Not only does it lead to health care costs and deaths but productivity loss as well. But when you do decide to quit smoking, nicotine withdrawal symptoms are the first hurdle you will face.

nicotine withdrawal symptoms

Some statistics

According to the World Health Organization, all types of tobacco smoking are dangerous—whether from cigarettes, cigars, water pipes, smokeless tobacco, or other types.

However, smoking is still a prevalent addiction worldwide, with 1.3 billion smokers. With billions of smokers, over 8 million deaths are attributed to smoking.

More than 7 million of these cases are due to first-hand smoking while about 1.2 million are due to second-hand smoke.

According to 2015 statistics in the Philippines, 40% of the male population and 8.2% of the female population smoked leading to 10 deaths every hour. This constituted 15.9 million tobacco users aged 15 years and older.

Specifically, over 70,000 Filipinos die each year due to tobacco-related illnesses, including lung cancer and heart disease due to second-hand smoke.

What causes smoking addiction?

Nicotine in tobacco is what makes people addicted to smoking.

According to a survey, more than 70% want to quit the habit. But this is easier said than done. Some people manage to stop immediately while others go through a long period of recovery. The success rate is only 5-10% of regular smokers.

If you’re one of the few people attempting to stop smoking, you need to prepare yourself to go through nicotine withdrawal.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms

Since each person is unique, each smoker will also go through different nicotine withdrawal symptoms. One of the most common is feeling restless and always wanting to fill the time with smoking.

Some of the most common discomforts you may feel include:

  • Nicotine cravings – longing to smoke is the most common and longest-lasting symptom.
  • Depression – long periods of sadness
  • Sleep issues – insomnia; increased dreaming
  • Emotional instability – Anxiety, irritability, anger, or frustration; constant mood swings
  • Behavioral issues – unable to think clearly and concentrate; always restless and jumpy
  • Physical problems – slower heart rate; weight gain or increase in hunger; dizziness; headaches; salivating

The symptoms may be isolated and can occur without warning. Most of the time, though, you will experience multiple symptoms at the same time.

Common Obstacles to Quitting Smoking

Although different people have different reactions, the first week after quitting is generally the hardest. Symptoms start within 4 up to 24 hours after you have smoked your last tobacco. The intensity usually peaks around day 3.

For some people, the symptoms gradually decrease in both intensity and frequency during the first month. But some continue to experience symptoms for three or more months.

What triggers a symptom?

Just as your smoking affects those around you, your environment will affect you when you start quitting your addiction. Besides internal triggers such as mental illnesses, your nicotine withdrawal symptoms may be triggered by:

  • Other smokers – continuing to associate with or stay in places where there are smokers is a surefire way of triggering your nicotine cravings. How can you stop something if you are continuously reminded of it? If you continue to seek it out?
  • Objects – just as other smokers can remind you of the addiction you want to stop, physical reminders are also key triggers of withdrawal symptoms. If you want to turn your back on smoking, it will be better to throw or hide things related to this: ashtrays, lighters, cutters, and other paraphernalia.
  • Habits – if you have developed the habit of smoking the moment you wake or after you’ve eaten a meal or drank something, then it will take time to stop your body from these secondary habits.
  • Stress – many tobacco users start smoking as a way to cope with stress. So, any stressful moment can become a trigger to a symptom.
  • Boredom – when you’re bored or have nothing to do, your mind will inevitably focus on what your body is craving: a smoke.

nicotine withdrawal symptoms

How do you cope with nicotine withdrawal symptoms?

Identifying your triggers can help you avoid them. If you cannot avoid them, then you will at least know how to keep yourself distracted so that they will not trigger your withdrawal symptoms.

One good tip is to create a contingency plan in anticipation of such events.

One plan is to follow the Ds recommended by the Philippine Department of Health:

  • Delay – train your mind to stave off cravings through delaying tactics such as telling yourself that you will do something about it later on. Keep delaying your reaction and you might eventually forget that you are craving a smoke.
  • Distract – one of the best ways to manage your symptoms is to distract yourself. Do something that will take your mind off your craving. For example, take a walk instead of hanging out with smokers. Drink water or chew gum to alleviate your physical symptoms. Take a long, hot bath.
  • Deep breathing – yoga or meditation, which requires deep breathing, can help train the mind to focus on other things and alleviate the symptoms.
  • Dial a friend – sometimes it helps to talk to someone, whether a friend or a counselor, about your plan to quit smoking. If you feel that your family or friends are not enough, counselors are trained to help people like you. You can contact them through their clinics or through hotlines. Your counselor can also recommend nicotine replacement therapies.

Key Takeaways

Quitting an addiction is never an easy thing to do. You will have days where your self-control will be sorely tested. You will have days where you will be physically sick because of your cravings. Remember that these days will pass.

Over time, nicotine withdrawal symptoms will decrease so long as you hold on to your resolution to stop smoking. Focus on your goal. Keep reminding yourself that you’ve taken the first step towards being healthy and that is already a victory you can celebrate.

Learn more about smoking cessation here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

World Health Organization (2020). Tobacco. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tobacco.

Vital Strategies (2015). Anti-Tobacco Campaign in the Philippines Highlights Health Harms of Smoking and Second-Hand Smoke. https://www.vitalstrategies.org/anti-tobacco-campaign-in-the-philippines-highlights-health-harms-of-smoking/.

Smokefree (n.d.). Managing Withdrawal. https://smokefree.gov/challenges-when-quitting/withdrawal/managing-withdrawal. Accessed August 31, 2020

McLaughlin, I., Dani, J. A., & De Biasi, M. (2015). Nicotine withdrawal. Current topics in behavioral neurosciences, 24, 99–123. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-13482-6_4 Accessed August 31, 2020

National Cancer Institute. How To Handle Withdrawal Symptoms and Triggers When You Decide To Quit Smoking. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/withdrawal-fact-sheet. Accessed August 31, 2020

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Written by Ruby Anne Hornillos Updated Apr 27
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
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