Navigating Withdrawal: Why Quitting Smoking Can Initially Make You Feel Unwell

Navigating Withdrawal: Why Quitting Smoking Can Initially Make You Feel Unwell

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A person’s body may take some time to adjust to the absence of nicotine, the active ingredient in cigarette smoke. This time of adjustment, called nicotine withdrawal, can feel uncomfortable.

People usually feel worse during the first weekTrusted Source. However, symptoms decline gradually over the first month. That said, some individuals may still have symptoms for several months.

Various coping strategies can helpTrusted Source with nicotine withdrawal, such as exercising to boost mood. It also helps to remember how quitting smoking results in important health benefits.

This article discusses the symptoms that manifest after quitting smoking, why they occur, and how long they last. It also examines coping strategies and the long-term benefits of quitting smoking.

Nicotine is highly addictive. Approximately 80–90% of individuals who smoke develop a dependence on it.

Once someone stops smoking, their body and brain need time to become accustomed to not having nicotine. This time of adjustment may feel uncomfortable and can result in a cluster of symptoms typical of nicotine withdrawal.

The severity of nicotine withdrawal differs among people who quit smoking. According to an older 2015 studyTrusted Source, it depends largely on the amount of nicotine consumption. However, some genetic changes may account for 29–53% of the variation in withdrawal symptoms.

The first 72 hours — or 3 days — after the last cigarette is the most difficult.

Below is what a person can expect:

  • 4 hours after a cigarette: Nicotine levels in the body drop by 90%, so the body signals it is time for a cigarette. The cravings start, and an individual may feel fidgety.
  • 10 hours after a cigarette: When getting ready for bed at the end of the first day, some people feel very hungry because their blood sugar levels are lower than usual at this point. They may also feel tingling in the feet and hands, indicating that circulation is returning to these body parts.
  • 24 hours after a cigarette: Someone may feel the urge to have a cigarette upon awakening. They may also feel anxious and irritable.
  • 48 hours after a cigarette: Anxiety or depression may start. Headaches may also manifest. However, they should disappear within the next 24 hours. Also, cravings recur often.
  • 72 hours after a cigarette: The frequency of cravings decreases considerably, and the duration should not exceed 5 minutes. Heavy smokers may experience a sore throat, excessive coughing, and chest tightness.
  • 7–21 days after a cigarette: Cravings occur daily. However, they are occasional and less intense. Most people experience increased appetite and lower energy. Someone may also have constipation and flatulence.

More than 70% of individuals who quit smoking will experience cravings and increased appetite. These are the most persistent symptoms and may linger for longer than 4 weeks.

Additionally, around 60% of people experience lingering symptoms that impact their mental health — such as irritability, anxiety, or trouble concentrating — this can last 4 weeks and then gradually reduce.

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