Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms: Timeline and What to Expect
It is not an exaggeration to say that nicotine withdrawal is one of the most painful things a person can go through during their lifetime, should they decide to quit nicotine cold turkey.
There are 3 main ways to quit cigarettes:
1) Quit cigarettes and not use any nicotine replacements at all
2) Quit cigarettes and use nicotine replacement therapy with titrating the dose down after each week with the goal of reaching 0mg nicotine. This can be done with patches, nicotine gums and lozenges and vaping.
3) Quit cigarettes without the intention to quit nicotine. Similar to #2 but this time there is no titrating down of the nicotine dose every week. A steady amount of nicotine is consumed per week as part of your life; the primary objective being to eliminate the cigarette.
This article will focus mainly on scenario 1 and 2 only.
How many days do the nicotine withdrawal symptoms last?
You probably want to know how long it takes to quit smoking. It is true that nicotine withdrawal varies from person to person. It is also true that how each person decides to withdraw from nicotine is also a great factor. For example, nicotine withdrawal will be much slower with the use of nicotine replacement therapy. Conversely, it will be much faster if you do not use any nicotine replacement. Nicotine withdrawal can be counted as four weeks from moment you drop the last cigarette and if you don’t touch anything related to nicotine afterwards. For some, three weeks can be enough, but studies show there is still a lingering effect remaining after those weeks and additional week of high alertness and mindfulness to focus on this great mission is critical for success. It also is a good measure for the mind psychologically to be able to say: “I haven’t touched a cigarette for a full month”.
The first week is the week you will feel the full effects of nicotine withdrawal. If you are on nicotine replacement therapy then this will be much easier. Within 24 to 96 hours, the nicotine withdrawal symptoms will begin their descent from the peak. It is during the first week of withdrawal that many people give up. The nicotine cravings are overwhelming and the first symptoms of nicotine absence in the body can seems to not improve during this first week.
Fun fact: It was mainly for this first week that most nicotine substitutes were invented. Practice as many sports as you can during this time, if you are not into sports then hit the gym or go jogging outside. If all of those options are out of reach, go to Youtube and type in “home workout” and you will find thousands of very well made videos to have a perfect workout without leaving your home. You would be surprised to see how a simple 10 min workout without any equipment can be extremely challenging!
Just remember, these first seven days are the hardest! Everything gets easier in the following weeks so hang in there!
The second week officially starts on day #8 from your last cigarette. Your symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are on their way down. You will still be experiencing cravings, mood swings, and other uncomfortable feelings in your body; the key here is the intensity from week 1 is down between 25%-50%! In other words, the hardest part is behind you. Overall, you will find it less difficult depriving yourself of cigarettes.
With nicotine replacement therapy like patches or lozenges, if you made it to week 2 then your odds of success to not ever touch cigarettes have skyrocketed! You are almost free from the cigarette!
The third week is quite special. Week 3 begins at day #15 from the last cigarette. This is the week where the nicotine withdrawal symptoms will be at their lowest point. At this point the cravings experienced are more often than not a craving other than nicotine deficiency, like old habits your mind is used to. It is also at this point that you will be exposed to a risk of relapse believing you to be out of trouble, the risk of relapse once after 3 weeks of abstinence is still present. The nicotine should be 90% gone for anyone who quit smoking without any nicotine replacement.
Week 4 and Beyond: Habits and Muscle Memory
The fourth week marks the end of your nicotine addiction, that is, if you have stopped without any nicotine replacement therapy. The gesture is one of the nicotine withdrawal symptoms that last much longer than that of nicotine. Because of muscle memory, your body very clearly remembers smoking a cigarette and the position of your fingers and arms up to your mouth.
Out of nowhere you might start noticing pens in your environment that were always there but which suddenly remind you of cigarettes and make you want to smoke. This is not just linked to the lack of nicotine but to the actual cigarettes. This is one of the reasons why cigarettes are called highly addictive, because which your body remembers it for after you eliminated cigarettes from your life. This effect is much stronger if the cigarette habit was formed during the teenage years when the brain is still developing.
There are other habits to watch out as well, for example going out with your friends or co-workers. Even if they are all non-smokers, the habit of lighting a cigarette when going out is still engraved in your memory. Driving is another example that requires no explanation.
What do nicotine withdrawal symptoms feel like?
After you quit smoking and have no more nicotine in your body, you may temporarily -experience symptoms such as:
-urgent and compelling need to smoke,
-mood disorders such as sadness and depression
-anxiety and nervousness
-irritability, frustration, anger
– increased appetite and weight gain.
Question: I will complete my 5th month without smoking, although I am using smoking cessation and replacement therapy to get my nicotine as it helps me so much again withdrawal symptoms. However, I found out yesterday that I had a sudden craving to smoke despite the fact it’s been almost half a year I haven’t smoked. Is this normal?
Answer: The urge to smoke can occur several months after quitting. Usually these cravings go away on their own after 3-5 minutes. Since you are already using nicotine replacement therapy alternatives, try to distract your mind with a drink or a salty snack, maybe a bag of potato chips. Over time, anywhere between 2-5 years, both the craving duration and intensity will decrease and slowly vanish. Perhaps go have a shower, or call some people you know, get a book. One very effective trick is to get your body moving. For example if you are sitting on your desk or your couch and start daydreaming and craving a cigarette, get up and go to the kitchen, and brew yourself a green tea! Green tea contains l-theanine and caffeine, two psychoactive chemicals that will effectively manage your urges! If you don’t consume caffeine on a regular basis, then don’t drink a caffeinated beverage past 3pm as it will interrupt your sleep; try instead naturally decaffeinated tea! You get all the benefits from tea with the l-theanine which is a nootropic on its own, but also all the antioxidant effects.
Question: I would like to know how long after you quit smoking do you start gaining weight and when does the weight gaining stop? I haven’t really changed my eating habits and after just a month I already gain 1kg. Is this normal or is it too much? I am very worried because if this goes on for 12 months I will have gained 12kg and that’s just insane! Do you think if I get my nicotine from a nicotine replacement therapy source can help with weight gain? Thanks in advance!
Answer: Weight gain is normal after you quit smoking and are not using smoking cessation products like gums or lozenges. It is unfortunately one of the few side effects of quitting nicotine. The bad news is that this goes on for approximately 1 year. The good news is that the weight stops increasing completely after 12 months and also the weight amount decreases month after month. To answer your question in numbers you would not see 1kg every month, rather 0.5-.1kg next month and so on. That’s because smoking artificially lowers the weight of smokers by reducing appetite and speeding up metabolism, and therefore energy consumption. When you quit cigarettes these 2 effects disappear and ex-smokers return to normal, which is in total 3-4 kg higher, much less than 12kg. However, for example if you are a bigger person by nature or naturally have a slower metabolism, and you gained 2-3kg on your first month you quit smoking, then in that case you can expect 10-12kg within the year.
In this post we showed the relationship between weight loss and nicotine. The main effects of nicotine on weight loss are appetite suppression and a significant increase metabolism. Generally the smoking habit is replaced by an eating habit in most people, especially with sweet and sugary foods. An eating urge usually develops gradually. Weight gain is also influenced by age, menopause, eating habits, physical activity, medications, etc.
What happens when you suddenly quit smoking?
The benefits of quitting smoking come very quickly after you crush the last cigarette, regardless of how much tobacco has been consumed over the years. It only takes twenty minutes after the last cigarette for the blood pressure and the heartbeat to return to normal. Eight hours later, the amount of carbon monoxide in the blood and the oxygenation of the cells become regular.
A day later, the risk of heart attack decreases, and the lungs begin to clear mucus and smoke residue. After two days, taste and smell senses start improving noticeably and appetite comes back. Keep in mind that having appetite and satisfying that appetite with healthy foods is a great thing, and there is no shortage of healthy foods that are extremely tasty.
Can you get sick from nicotine withdrawal?
Question: Hello, I’m a little taken aback because it’s been a year since I quit smoking (I smoked one to two packs a day for 10 years) and I see almost no benefit. Besides the financial benefits I have never in my life been as sick as when I quit smoking. I keep getting colds, the flu, stomach pains, I cough, and I have blood circulation problems when I had blood circulation issues ever in my life! I gained 20 kilos in the process, I feel less happy. And I see absolutely no benefit. Thank you in advance for your answer.
Answer: After a year of quitting the health problems you describe cannot be linked to quitting smoking. Some may be linked to the harmful effects of your ten years of intensive smoking like the circulatory problems. Others like the flu and stomach upset are a combination of circumstances. You say you are tired, depressed and have gained 20 kg. Do you play sports? This helps to re-mobilize energies and burn calories.
Regarding your financial benefit you are getting, it is necessary to gift yourself and even spoil yourself from time to time with gifts by taking advantage of the money saved from tobacco. Relaxing, leisure, sports, massages, etc. are all necessary to avoid frustration. Quitting smoking is the best gift you can give to your health: and your finances.
You may also try to get medical advice from a mental health expert for your depression. Mental health is as important and physical health and the body may be affected in a negative way if mental health issues are present. What you are describing are not symptoms of withdrawal, but rather a symptoms of nicotine’s benefits loss of it’s body basal metabolism increase that occurs when you stop smoking.
What you can do as well if you are sure that the lack of nicotine is the root of your issues and side affects you are mentioning don’t come from withdrawal but represent the symptoms of absence of nicotine in the body, you may under the guide of a health expert try to start slowly with the same tools that you used for smoking cessation such as nicotine gums or lozenges, start with 1mg every few hours to see if this helps. You said you were smoking for 10 years and up to 2 packs a day, that is 72mg for 10 years!
Your body may have developed long term dependence not to smoking but to the dopamine effects from nicotine. You may have heard of the term “DAWS”, which stands for Dopamine Agonist Withdrawal Syndrome. The symptom of DAWS can last well over days and weeks. People who have been activating their dopamine receptors with smoking for a decade can have trouble at first differentiating between symptoms of smoking and symptoms of nicotine absence.
Keep in mind that tobacco kills one in two consumers … Don’t give up!