Smoking Withdrawal Symptoms

Updated January 30, 2018
Woman breaking cigarette in half

Once you decide to quit smoking, symptoms of withdrawal can appear within 2 to 3 hours after smoking your last cigarette. Heavy smokers and individuals who have a long history of smoking are more likely to experience these. These unpleasant feelings will generally peak 2 to 3 days after quitting.

woman with headache

Withdrawal Headache

You may experience headaches because less nicotine in your body allows more blood and oxygen flow to your brain. Headaches are usually worse the first week after you quit but will improve with time. Increasing fluid intake and getting adequate rest can help you overcome this symptom.

Weight Gain

feet on a bathroom scale

According to UptoDate a clinical decision tool, one of the biggest fears smokers have is gaining weight when they quit. Nicotine speeds up your metabolism, using 7 to 15 percent more calories while your body is at rest. Conversely, your body burns food at a slower rate when nicotine is not present. Cigarette smoking also suppresses your appetite so when you quit, you may feel hungrier.

UptoDate also notes that on average, people gain 4 to 5 kg (8 to 11 pounds) after quitting, however, 10 percent of quitters gained over 13 kg (28 pounds). Generally, you will gain 2 to 4 pounds during the in the first two weeks of quitting and additional 4 to 6 pounds five months later. Women, nonwhites, and heavy smokers are more likely to experience weight gain.

Sleeping Difficulties

woman awake in bed

You may find you have more trouble sleeping once you stop smoking. Sleeping difficulties include trouble falling asleep, waking up too early, and interrupted sleep. This is the result of more oxygen flowing to your brain and limiting your body's supply of nicotine. Findings from a 2007 study in Nicotine & Tobacco Research indicated that when participants stopped smoking, they experienced more fragmented sleep and vivid dreams. Researchers also noted the vivid dreams most often included smoking, panic, or guilt which continued for several months. If you are having difficulty with your sleep, try deep breathing and eliminating caffeine from your diet in the evening.

Difficulty Concentrating

When you stop smoking, you may trouble concentrating. A 2001 study showed nicotine use resulted in small improvements in continuous attention and memory recognition tasks. Subsequently, when you stop using the drug, you can experience performance deficits.

Cigarette Cravings

Quitting is hard, and your cravings for cigarettes may be intensified during certain activities. When you smoke, there is a consistent level of nicotine in your body which is influenced by how often you smoke, your depth of inhalation, and the type of tobacco you use. When you quit, the amount of nicotine in your system is drastically reduced which leads to your cravings. Your cigarette cravings will usually start within one to two hours after your last cigarette. Your first three smoke-free days will probably be the worst, and your desire to smoke may peak within a few days and last for a number of weeks. The 2010 study indicated 59 percent of former smokers reported having cigarette cravings within the last year and commonly cited depressed mood (47 percent), seeing someone smoke (43 percent), alcohol use (37 percent), and being in a place they used to smoke (32 percent) as triggers. As more time passes your desire to smoke will diminish, but it is common to experience mild cravings for up to 6 months after quitting.

Mood Changes

When you smoke to control your moods and feelings, you may feel like you no longer have a coping mechanism once you stop. Mood changes such as irritability, restlessness, or feeling down are common after you stop smoking as your body gets used to life without nicotine. These changes will peak within the first week of quitting but may last for 2 to 4 weeks.

Depression and Anxiety

Feelings of depression and anxiety may be more intense after you quit. UptoDate notes depressive episodes in patients with a history of depression can be triggered when they quit smoking. These individuals often require behavioral counseling and/or antidepressant medication. If you find you are feeling down after quitting, it can be helpful to talk about it with a friend, counselor, or your doctor. They can provide support and help you find ways to cope.

Respiratory Symptoms

You may experience more coughing once you stop smoking. This cough is usually temporary and helps your lungs rid itself of harmful chemicals. When you smoke, the toxins slow down the movement of the cilia hairs that line your lungs, but these hairs grow back and become active again after you quit. As your cilia recover, you may also cough more to clear the mucus from your lungs. To help suppress your cough, increase your fluid intake. This helps to thin out and loosen your mucus. Less wheezing and shortness of breath is also experienced when you stop smoking as your cilia cleans your lungs, which reduces the likelihood of infection.

Improved Lung Health

Breaking the nicotine habit is not easy and is complicated by withdrawal symptoms. Knowing the symptoms and finding the resources available to help you through the process can help you kick the habit for good.

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Smoking Withdrawal Symptoms