Addiction Nicotine Use Nicotine Withdrawal Print 7 Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal Knowing the signs can help you prepare By Terry Martin Updated August 22, 2019 More in Addiction Nicotine Use Nicotine Withdrawal After You Quit How to Quit Smoking Smoking-Related Diseases The Inside of Cigarettes Alcohol Use Addictive Behaviors Drug Use Coping and Recovery Nicotine withdrawal is the one thing that many smokers fear when embarking on a smoking cessation plan. It can be a distressing experience for some, triggering a host of physical and psychological symptoms that some find hard to tolerate. This doesn't mean that everyone will experience nicotine withdrawal in the same way. People who quit cold turkey usually have worse symptoms than those who take a cohesive approach, with counseling, support systems, and smoking aids (including nicotine replacement therapy). By understanding the signs and symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, you can better prepare for them and know how to act if and when they occur. While nicotine withdrawal is never fun, it is important to remember that it's only a temporary situation. With a little preparation and persistence, you will get through it. 1 Nicotine Cravings Peopleimages/Getty Images Smoking urges, commonly known as nicotine cravings, is one of the most challenging and persistent symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. The cravings you feel are caused by nicotinic receptors in the brain. When sudden deprived of nicotine, the brain will no longer release the "feel-good" hormone dopamine which the body has grown accustomed to. Craving is a physiological response in which the body yearns for something to which it has adapted and become tolerant. Nicotine cravings typically last for five to 10 minutes. They may be extremely uncomfortable, but try to wait them out and remind yourself that the feeling will pass. Chewing nicotine gum or taking a long, brisk walk usually helps. 2 Snacking and Weight Gain Tetra Images/Getty Images The urge to snack is about more than just replacing cigarettes with food. Whenever you smoke, the intake nicotine triggers the release of glucose (sugar) from your muscles and liver while altering your insulin response. As a result, if you were to stop smoking, you would experience a drop in blood sugar and feel the need to consume carbs, sweets, and other foods to satiate this sudden and often unexplained hunger. As a result, people who quit cigarettes will gain an average of 10 pounds after one year with most of the gain occurring during the first three months, according to research from the University of Birmingham in England. 3 Sleep Disturbances Tetra Images/Getty Images Sleep problems are common side effects of nicotine withdrawal and can run the gamut from insomnia to needing extra sleep during the day. The symptoms are also closely linked to the dysregulation of dopamine, the hormone of which is also involved in sleep regulation. Studies have also shown that rapid eye movement (REM) can be adversely affected when you quit, resulting in a lack of quality sleep and a persistent tiredness during the day. Improved sleep hygiene can often help. 4 Persistent Cough Science Photo Library/Getty Images People will often become alarmed when they develop a persistent cough after they quit smoking. As odd as this may seem, coughing at this stage is a sign that your lungs are getting better, not worse. When you smoke, the tiny finger-like projections in the lining of your airways, called cilia, will become immobilized and eventually flatten out. After you quit, the cilia will return to its normal shape and function, pushing toxic deposits out of the lungs to be coughed up. You can help relieve this symptom by staying well hydrated, humidifying the air, and using honey or an over-the-counter cough drop to ease any throat irritation. 5 Flu-Like Symptoms Kathleen Finlay/Getty Images While in the process of quitting, you may experience something popularly referred to as the "quitter's flu." The condition, characterized by a mild fever, malaise, sinusitis, coughing, and body aches, is simply your body's response to an unfamiliar state. The sudden cessation of smoking can trigger an immune response in much in the same way as it would respond to a bacteria or virus it considers abnormal. In most cases, a quitter's flu will last for only a couple of days. Nicotine replacement therapy, along with over-the-counter pain relievers, may help ease the symptoms. 6 Mood Changes PeopleImages/Getty Images Stress and irritation are common symptoms of early nicotine withdrawal, triggered by the profound dysregulation of the endocrine (hormonal) and central nervous systems. This can not only cause extreme changes in mood, including sudden and irrational outbursts, it can trigger short-term physiological changes, including increased blood pressure and heart rate. Memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and dizziness are also common. The psychological symptoms can further deepen if you are sleep-deprived, leading to bouts of anxiety or depression that may require medical treatment. 7 Constipation Anna Bizon/Getty Images In addition to the lungs and brain, the digestive tract can be adversely affected if you suddenly stop smoking. Doing so alters the motility and contraction of the intestines, dramatically slowing the speed by which food is digested. As many as one in six smokers who quit cigarettes will experience bouts of constipation, generally lasting for one to two weeks. The symptom may be further exacerbated by the "munchies" people experience while quitting, increasing both the volume of food you eat but intake of foods more likely to cause constipation (such as white bread, chocolate, potato chips, and ice cream). Drinking plenty of water and increasing your intake of dietary fiber can usually help normalize bowel movements. A Word from Verywell There is no doubt that nicotine withdrawal can be an intense experience that we would prefer to skip if we could. With that being said, this phase of smoking cessation won't last forever and, if prepared, you can learn to manage the symptoms as they come. Try not to get ahead of yourself and worry about never smoking again. Just focus on today, and do whatever you can to remain smoke-free. In the end, the benefits of quitting far outweigh any short-term discomfort you may experience. If you take it one step at a time, you'll get there. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! So you're ready to finally quit smoking? Our free guide can help you get on the right track. Sign up and get yours today. Email Address Sign Up There was an error. Please try again. Thank you, , for signing up. What are your concerns? Other Inaccurate Hard to Understand Submit Article Sources Jackson KJ, Muldoon PP, De biasi M, Damaj MI. New mechanisms and perspectives in nicotine withdrawal. Neuropharmacology. 2015;96(Pt B):223-34. doi:10.1016/j.neuropharm.2014.11.009 Aubin HJ, Farley A, Lycett D, Lahmek P, Aveyard P. Weight gain in smokers after quitting cigarettes: meta-analysis. BMJ. 2012;345:e4439. doi:10.1136/bmj.e4439 Davenport PW, Vovk A, Duke RK, Bolser DC, Robertson E. The urge-to-cough and cough motor response modulation by the central effects of nicotine. Pulm Pharmacol Ther. 2009;22(2):82-9. doi:10.1016/j.pupt.2008.11.013 Beard E, Shahab L, Curry SJ, West R. Association between smoking cessation and short-term health-care use: results from an international prospective cohort study (ATTEMPT). Addiction. 2013;108(11):1979-88. doi:10.1111/add.12281 Nakajima M, Al'absi M. Nicotine withdrawal and stress-induced changes in pain sensitivity: a cross-sectional investigation between abstinent smokers and nonsmokers. Psychophysiology. 2014;51(10):1015-22. doi:10.1111/psyp.12241 Hajek P, Gillison F, Mcrobbie H. Stopping smoking can cause constipation. Addiction. 2003;98(11):1563-7. Additional Reading Aubin, H.; Farley, A.; Lycett, D. et al. Weight gain in smokers after quitting cigarettes: a meta-analysis. BMJ.2012;345:e4439. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e4439. Jaehne, A.; Loessl, B.; Bárkai, Z. et al. Effects of nicotine on sleep during consumption, withdrawal and replacement therapy. Sleep Med Rev.2009;13(5):363-77. DOI: 10.1016/j.smrv.2008.12.003. McLaughlin, I.; Dani, J.; and De Biasi, M. Nicotine Withdrawal. Curr Top Behav Neurosci.2015;24:99-123. DOI:10.1007/978-3-319-13482-6_4.