Coping with Nicotine Withdrawal

Cigarettes, chewing tobacco, pipes, and cigars are all made with dried tobacco leaves, which naturally contain the drug nicotine. Manufacturers of these products add additional nicotine, as well as a whole host of other chemicals and additives, to make smoking more enjoyable. One report suggests there are as many as 4,000 different chemicals in one cigarette. These additives can have disastrous effects on your health.

Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

Nicotine dependence causes an addiction to these tobacco products. If and when you try to quit, you may face any number of nicotine withdrawal symptoms; most people who try to quit deal with at least one. These symptoms can include:
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • dry mouth
  • cough
  • irritability
  • cravings to smoke
  • constipation
  • anxiety
As a rule, people who have smoked for a longer period of time and those who smoke at a higher volume (a larger number of cigarettes in a day) will have the greatest likelihood of nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms may also be made worse at certain times of day or in certain places. Your mind may unconsciously associate a variety of places, people, or times with smoking and set off a trigger to smoke.

The Problem with “Cold Turkey”

The physical withdrawal from nicotine is only temporary, but it can be difficult to cope with your body’s reaction. If you choose to quit without the assistance of a smoking-cessation aid (sometimes known as quitting “cold turkey”), withdrawal usually begins two to three hours after you last smoke, and the symptoms are likely to get worse for several days. Peak withdrawal occurs about three days after your last smoke. Then, as your body becomes accustomed to not having the nicotine, symptoms of withdrawal will subside.

Some smokers are fearful of these withdrawal symptoms and choose to quit nicotine in a milder manner with the help of low-nicotine cigarettes or smoking-cessation aids (like gums, patches, and prescription medicine).

Managing Nicotine Withdrawal

No matter how you do it, you will likely encounter one or more withdrawal symptoms at some point in your quit-smoking journey. You do not have to give in to these symptoms and give up your quest to be smoke free. Here are a few tips for coping with your withdrawal symptoms.


Nicotine can improve mood and may give you a false sense of well-being. Without the drug, you may begin to feel slightly depressed. Thirty minutes of exercise each day can help beat the sagging feeling of fatigue and depression by naturally boosting endorphins in your body. Exercise may also help you sleep better. For the best results, avoid exercising right before you turn in; give yourself three to four hours of downtime before you go to bed.

Catch Some Zzzz

Your body is going through a lot of change as it works to rid itself of the nicotine and other chemicals you have been inhaling. If you feel more tired or sleepy, it is okay to take a nap or go to bed a bit earlier. Your body still works while you are asleep.

Distract Yourself

If you replace your cravings for nicotine with food, you may see the number on the scale increase. This is another reason people put off quitting—fear of gaining weight. Find a distraction other than food when you begin craving a cigarette. You might try playing a game, reading your favorite website, or going for a run. The goal is to get yourself away from the temptation and busy focusing on a different idea.

Make Your Life Smoke-Free

Ask friends and family members to respect your new lifestyle and refrain from smoking around you. This may mean asking them to only smoke outside and not in your house or car. You remove your temptation, and you may also encourage them to rethink their habit. It can be a win-win.

Manage Stress Better

In the past, you turned to cigarettes as a quick pick-me-up when times were stressful—but no more. Now you have to find techniques to deal with everyday stress in a healthier way. Physical activity—walking, cleaning the house, or gardening—can help you reduce your stress while keeping your mind off any cravings. Deep-breathing techniques or meditation can help you find calm and avoid taking stress out in less constructive ways. Whatever way you find works best for you, remember to turn to that when you need to let out some steam.

Turn to Your Accountability Partner

Be honest, and tell him or her (or them) about your withdrawal. Also, let them know the rationalizations you’re making: “Just one cigarette won’t set me back too much” or “I’ll smoke a cigarette just this once to get through this craving.” Your partner can help you identify ways you are sabotaging your quit-smoking plan, and they can provide the support and encouragement to get through the craving.

Celebrate Milestones

Congratulations! You have reached a milestone. You made it a whole day without smoking. Reward yourself when you reach your goals—a day, a week, a month, six months of being cigarette-free. That way, when you are telling yourself “one cigarette won’t hurt,” you can focus on the prize you have set up as celebration for being strong. Treat yourself to some down time—maybe indulge in a bubble bath, slip away to watch your favorite reality show, or take yourself out to a movie. And plan for tomorrow’s mini celebration so you will have something to look forward to when a craving sets in.


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