Nicotine affects many different systems within the body—most importantly, the brain. Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to the presence of nicotine. Nicotine withdrawal can be unpleasant. The cravings many smokers experience during acute withdrawal is comparable to those of opiate addiction. For days, sometimes weeks, it’s all the addict can think about.
If you’re quitting cigarettes, tobacco chew, or some other method of nicotine delivery, you’ll want to track your progress. To do that, you’ll need to know the basic timeline of nicotine withdrawal. After a few days or weeks of going without nicotine, the worst of the withdrawal symptoms usually subside.
SYMPTOMS OF NICOTINE WITHDRAWAL
Nicotine withdrawal strikes incredibly fast – just hours after the last dose. Common symptoms of this acute phase include:
- Decreased performance on cognitive tasks (trouble thinking clearly and concentrating)
- Decreased performance on psychomotor tasks
- Feeling irritable, on edge, or grouchy
- Feeling restless and jumpy
- Increased appetite
- Intense cravings for nicotine
- Slower heart rate
- Trouble getting or staying asleep (insomnia)
DURATION OF NICOTINE WITHDRAWAL
Some symptoms may persist for a couple weeks after you stop smoking. You may notice hyperactivity problems, restlessness, sleep disturbances, or cognitive difficulties. If you’ve been using nicotine to relieve stress, get ready to face that stress head-on. On average, acute withdrawal symptoms settle down within 10 days of quitting. The most serious cases last for about a month.
HELP FOR NICOTINE WITHDRAWAL
We generally don’t think of nicotine as a drug that requires medical or behavioral intervention. We think of it more as a life choice. Regardless, if someone wants to quit, there are all sorts of medications, psychotherapies, and self-help guides available for that purpose. Throughout history, a lot of people have quit smoking, and a lot of research has been conducted to figure out how they did it. The conclusion: anyone can do it, no matter how nicotine-dependent they’ve become. Some helpful tools include:
If you’re a smoker suffering from depression, the mood-boosting properties of SSRIs can help you quit. If your neuron levels are where they should be, you’ll feel less of a need to compensate with cigarettes.
Nicotine replacement therapy
A sort of nicotine detox, NRT weans patients off nicotine by administering increasingly lesser dose – enough to prevent withdrawal, but not enough to jolt an increased desire for more cigarettes — for several days or weeks in a row. Some people use nicotine gum or patches for this. One increasingly popular method of nicotine replacement therapy is the electronic cigarette. Unlike normal cigarettes, e-cigarettes allow users to adjust nicotine levels.
Smoking cessation medicines
These medications, like Varenicline tartrate (Chantix), are used for smoking cessation as well. Although these meds are non-nicotine based, they happen to affect nicotine-related brain regions in some helpful ways. In addition to easing withdrawal symptoms, cessation meds also act a sort of relapse safety net by blocking the effects of nicotine in case of relapse.
For more information on nicotine addiction and how it works, view our blog archives and to get help or advice on quitting any addiction through rehab and recovery, contact our office here at Blueprints for Recovery.