What Is Nicotine Withdrawal?
Nicotine is a naturally occurring alkaloid contained in tobacco leaves1. It’s a highly addictive stimulant that is introduced to the body by inhaling cigarette smoke, rapidly affecting the nervous system. Because nicotine is addictive, smokers come to depend on it, experiencing physical and psychological discomfort when they don’t smoke for a period of time3. Nicotine withdrawal - and its unpleasant symptoms - is a big obstacle to giving up smoking.
What Causes Nicotine Withdrawal?
The causes of nicotine withdrawal are very straightforward. As soon as you stop smoking your system reacts with a range of standard physiological responses to the absence of nicotine. Put simply: you’ve stopped feeding your body an addictive substance that it’s come to depend on. When it feels the absence of nicotine it protests - and you suffer! The most noticeable symptom of nicotine withdrawal is a strong craving for cigarettes.
Tips for Making it Through Nicotine Withdrawal
Although there is a standard range of symptoms, everybody experiences nicotine withdrawal differently. There is no single best way to make it through nicotine withdrawal, but planning, preparation and a flexible mindset are very important.
- Keep busy and occupy your mind
- Use physical exercise to beat cravings
- Focus on all the benefits of giving up smoking
- Talk to supportive people when you’re struggling
- Remind yourself that the withdrawal symptoms will pass
- Try nicotine substitutes - patches, gum, lozenges and inhalers
- Use stop smoking medications like Zyban or Champix
Know What to Expect
Forewarned is forearmed when you’re setting out to beat an addiction. If you know what to expect (or at least what you might be facing) you’re much more likely to succeed to give up smoking.
The chances are that if you’re a smoker you’ve already experienced nicotine cravings2 - and done your best to quickly satisfy them. We’ve all been in situations where we ran out of cigarettes and suffered until we got hold of some more.
When you give up smoking you need to beat the cravings - either through will power and determination, or by looking at them as a medical problem that requires treatment.
If you regard nicotine cravings as a medical problem, a possible solution is to use a prescription medication like Zyban or Champix. These are believed to work directly on the brain’s neurotransmitters to block cravings at source. They may also block the receptors that make cigarette smoking feel like a pleasurable activity.
Can I use prescription stop smoking tablets?
Prescription tablets like Zyban and Champix are safe for the huge majority of patients over the age of 18. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or suffer from a small number of medical conditions the treatments may not be suitable for you.
DoktorABC’s short medical questionnaire will ensure that you receive the right medication for your needs with next day delivery. Get started now.
Restlessness and boredom
When you give up smoking you’re depriving yourself of a pleasurable habit that’s also a personal routine and a time filler. Nicotine withdrawal can very quickly cause restlessness and boredom, compounded by feelings of physical discomfort. The absolute best way to deal with this problem is by keeping busy and occupying your mind with something enjoyable and physically or mentally challenging.
Anxiety and depression
If you’re already prone to anxiety and depression, nicotine withdrawal can bring on or exacerbate symptoms. This can create enormous psychological pressure to self medicate with cigarettes. If you’re worried that you might be at risk of anxiety or depression, speak to your GP before you stop smoking.
If you’ve never experienced anxiety of depression before, don’t panic if you experience negative moods when you go through nicotine withdrawal - they will almost certainly pass. Try talking to friends and family, or visit your GP if you’re struggling.
If you’re already using cigarettes as a stress management tool, giving up smoking can be extra challenging. The chances are that as soon as you experience nicotine withdrawal your stress levels will rise - just as your coping mechanisms diminish.
The good news is that there are plenty of tools for stress management and giving up smoking is a great opportunity to introduce the concept of stress management to your life.
One particularly irritating physiological reaction to nicotine withdrawal can be headaches. Fortunately not everybody experiences them, and many may be stress related anyway. Everybody has their own way of dealing with headaches. If you’re under pressure the most convenient solution may be an over the counter pain killer.
If you have the opportunity, try deep breathing and meditation, a brisk walk in the fresh air, or a hot bath.
When you stop smoking you’re no longer filling your lungs with a cloud of toxic chemicals several times a day. Your body is already working overtime to cleanse itself, and this process may intensify as you place your system under less strain. As the body adjusts to your new smoke free lifestyle you may experience some coughing. Your may also cough up tobacco coloured phlegm or mucous. Most cases of ‘smokers cough’ are short lived and relatively mild. If it causes you discomfort see your GP.
Fatigue and insomnia
A small minority of people may experience fatigue and insomnia as a consequence of nicotine withdrawal. This is usually a result of stress and frustration rather than a direct physiological reaction. Issues with lack of sleep and tiredness are usually temporary and will resolve themselves as your body adjusts to your new smoke free lifestyle. There are several strategies for dealing with sleep loss and the first step is to assess your personal stress levels. If you can’t sleep, try to find an activity to occupy your mind - you will be less likely to reach for a cigarette!
Digestive problems can occasionally occur as a result of nicotine withdrawal, but they tend to be quite rare. If you experience any kind of digestive issue that lasts more than a day or two, you should consult your GP as a matter of course. If you do experience some kind of digestive upset, stick to simple foods, avoid salty, spicy or fatty dishes and drink plenty of liquids. You may experience cravings for particular foods when you stop smoking, and it’s important not to overdo it with snacks and junk food.
Nicotine withdrawal can cause stress, irritability and lack of focus3, particularly if you are used to smoking when you concentrate on a difficult task. It’s important to remember that these issues are temporary and will ease. If you have trouble concentrating it can help to take a break and burn off some nervous energy with exercise. This could be as simple as a 5 minute walk around the block. If exercise isn’t your thing, try clearing your mind by watching tv or surfing the net for a few minutes.
There is no reason why you should gain weight when you stop smoking. Nicotine withdrawal in itself doesn’t cause weight gain. If people do gain weight, it is usually because they are compensating for cigarettes with unhealthy snacks. Giving up smoking is a major lifestyle change and is a perfect opportunity to improve your fitness at the same time. Try snacking on small amounts of healthy food and try to ease your nicotine withdrawal with physical exercise or sport.
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