What Is the Smoker's Flu?

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What Is Smoker's Flu?

Smoker's flu, also known as quitter's flu, is a slang term used to describe some of the main symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Smoker's flu is not an infectious disease, but rather the process a person's body goes through while transitioning to life after quitting nicotine.

Smoker's flu refers to the physical effects of detoxing from nicotine and the chemicals in cigarettes and tobacco products. These symptoms can mimic those of an illness. Most former smokers are familiar with these common symptoms of withdrawal.

This article discusses the symptoms of smoker's flu, what causes the symptoms, and how to cope with flu-like symptoms when you are quitting smoking.

symptoms of quitter's flu

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Symptoms of Smoker's Flu

Quitter's flu is characterized by a number of common symptoms. You may experience any of these symptoms after quitting smoking:

Cravings for cigarettes are also another common nicotine withdrawal symptom. Such cravings often make it more difficult to quit.

Diagnosis of Smoker's Flu

Most of the discomfort associated with nicotine withdrawal is similar to the common cold or the flu. This fact can make it difficult to know whether you're sick or experiencing withdrawal. One tell-tale sign that your symptoms are caused by something more than smoker's flu is a fever. Fevers are not a sign of nicotine withdrawal.

The following questions can help you figure out why you aren't feeling well.

Are You Using a Quit Smoking Aid? 

Quit-smoking aids can reduce or eliminate the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Nearly all quit aids lower nicotine cravings to some extent. While you may still miss the act of smoking, the physical sensations of nicotine withdrawal won't be as intense as they might be without a quit aid.

If you quit cold turkey (without the use of any quit aid and without tapering your daily nicotine intake) expect symptoms to be very strong for the first few days as your body begins eliminating residual nicotine and adjusting to being nicotine-free.

When Did the Symptoms Start? 

Think about when you first started feeling bad. If the timing coincides with when you quit smoking, chances are you're dealing with nicotine withdrawal. However, if your symptoms don't improve within a few days, or you are concerned about them, call a healthcare provider.

Increased Risk of the Flu in Smokers

While symptoms may initially be caused by nicotine withdrawal, keep in mind that smoking greatly increases your risk of influenza, pneumonia, and other respiratory diseases. If you experience fever in addition to withdrawal symptoms, see a doctor. The good news is that by quitting smoking, you are reducing your vulnerability to respiratory diseases every day you are smoke-free.

Causes of Smoker's Flu

The symptoms of quitter's flu are caused by the body withdrawing from nicotine. Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical that affects neurotransmitters in the brain. It binds to receptors in the brain and affects the activity of chemicals including serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine, norepinephrine, and glutamate. These neurotransmitters play a role in different functions including memory, mood, appetite, and feelings of pleasure. 

When you quit smoking, your body suddenly has to get used to the absence of nicotine in the brain. As your brain and body try to adjust to this change, the lack of nicotine is what causes symptoms such as cravings, depressed mood, irritability, appetite changes, and sleep difficulties. 

Treatment

While nicotine withdrawal typically goes away on its own, it can last anywhere from a week to a month. The duration and intensity of these symptoms can affect how successful you are at quitting. Fortunately, there are treatments available that can ease the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and make it more likely that you'll stick to your smoking cessation goals.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications

Pain relievers and cough drops can help relieve some symptoms of the smoker's flu. OTC remedies for upset stomach, runny nose, sore throat, and trouble sleeping might also be helpful.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)

Nicotine replacement medications deliver a small amount of nicotine without the dangerous chemical found in cigarettes. They can help you gradually reduce your nicotine intake more comfortably without severe withdrawal symptoms. NRT products that are available include nicotine patches, nicotine chewing gum, inhalers, lozenges, and nasal spray.

Psychotherapy

Behavioral therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also be helpful at changing the problematic thoughts and behaviors that play a role in smoking, which can help people learn new skills that will help them quit smoking and stay smoke-free over the long term.

Coping With Smoker's Flu

Quitting smoking is tough but it's one of the best things you can do for your health. The following tips will help you feel better as you go through the process of quitting.

Distract Yourself

Distraction is a top tool at your disposal during early smoking cessation. It's easy for our brains to get stuck on a negative track, fixating on physical irritations, and making us feel worse.

Jolt yourself out of a negative mindset or obsessive craving by quickly changing your activity for a few minutes. Something as simple as getting up to pour a glass of water, or taking a few deep breaths can stop you from picking up a cigarette.

Exercise

Exercise beats back cravings to smoke and improves your mood by releasing endorphins in your brain. If you exercise regularly, continue doing the activities you enjoy most. If you're not used to exercising, check in with a doctor before starting a new exercise regimen, especially if you have health issues that could pose a problem.

Once you get the green light from a doctor, start slow. A short walk around the block can be enough to subdue withdrawal symptoms. Walking provides an instant reward, helping you feel better right away.

Eat Well

The fuel you give your body during nicotine withdrawal can either reduce your negative symptoms or make you feel worse. Think about how your body reacts to food under normal circumstances.

Eating unhealthy food can lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes, leaving you feeling wired or tired as you go through your day. Foods that keep your body in balance will provide you with sustained energy as you detoxify from cigarettes.

That said, if you never indulge your food cravings, deprivation could make the urge to smoke stronger. Instead, try to limit the less nutritious foods you eat by using the 80/20 rule. Reserve 80% of your daily calories for nutritious food and the other 20% for occasional treats.

Get Enough Rest

When you quit smoking, your body works hard to rid itself of toxins and shake the physical addiction to nicotine. Give yourself permission to go to bed earlier or take a nap if you need it. Don't worry, your energy will return in time.

Summary

The smoker's flu is not really a cold or flu, although the symptoms may be similar. It is caused by nicotine withdrawal and gradually lessens as your body adjusts to having no nicotine. Understanding these symptoms can make it easier to cope with quitter's flu, but using OTC medications and nicotine replacement therapy products can also help.

A Word From Verywell 

For most people who smoke, quitting tobacco produces one or several symptoms of withdrawal. Changing old habits is tough, especially if you've been smoking multiple times a day for years.

Quitting nicotine can feel overwhelming. It may seem like your mind is trying to convince you to go back to smoking. However, nicotine withdrawal is temporary. Endure discomfort by viewing your symptoms as confirmation that your body is healing from its dependence on nicotine. Better days are coming soon.

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10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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