Nicotine is a highly potent stimulant drug that is commonly absorbed when people use various types of tobacco products. Popular tobacco products include both cigarettes and (smokeless) chewing tobacco. Nicotine itself is a nicotonic acetylcholine receptor agonist and acts as a stimulant in mammals at low doses. Most people hypothesize that the “stimulant” effect is what causes most individuals to become addicted to the substance.
It essentially stimulates the reward pathways in the brain and causes people to associate smoking and/or using other tobacco products with pleasure. Even various products with nicotine that are used to help people quit smoking such as patches, gum, inhalants, and vaporizers can be addictive. It is the nicotine itself that is regarded as having the highest level of psychological addiction out of any stimulant according to the American Heart Association.
Due to the highly addictive nature of nicotine, it is no surprise that individuals experience both physical and psychological symptoms upon withdrawal. Many have regarded the act of quitting nicotine as being just as difficult as quitting hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. For most people, the withdrawal symptoms are very difficult to cope with.
Factors that influence nicotine withdrawal
There are many different factors that play a role in the nicotine withdrawal process. The amount of time you used nicotine, the frequency (rate) at which you used it, your social support, knowledge, and intrinsic motivation are all going to play a role in determining how successful your withdrawal goes. Be sure to keep these factors in mind as you attempt to quit.
1. Time Span
How long were you a smoker? In general, the longer you have smoked, the greater the potential you have for being addicted to nicotine. Someone who smoked just a couple times should theoretically have an easier time quitting than someone who has been smoking for years. Each time you smoke, your brain associates an experience with smoking.
The more experiences you have smoking and the more your brain’s reward center is stimulated by the nicotine, the tougher it will be for you to quit. Additionally, if you were smoking as a means to cope with an underlying psychological issue such as: anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, etc. – it is going to be much more difficult to quit because you have come to associate nicotine use as the acceptable way to cope.
2. Frequency of usage
How often did you use nicotine products? Did you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day? Did you use chewing tobacco multiple times a day? Although the time span over which you used nicotine influences withdrawal, so does the frequency of usage.
If you smoked cigarettes 5 times per day, you are likely going to have a much more difficult time quitting than someone who smoked just once every other day. Individuals that use nicotine at a higher frequency are also going to have a more extensive “weaning” process.
Despite the fact that nicotine is highly addictive, some people have an easier time quitting than others. The drug affects humans the same, but does not affect each person to the same degree. One person may have a slightly different physiological response than another.
Some people may smoke in order to cope with underlying stress and/or anxiety. Others may have smoked just for social enjoyment. Individuals with addictive personalities are going to have a more difficult time quitting than someone with non-addictive traits.
Do you have good social support? Are you surrounding yourself with people that engage in healthy habits? For some people, support can come in the form of therapy, for others all it takes is a couple encouraging family members or friends.
In general, the more support you have the easier it is going to be to quit. People that support your decision to stop smoking and/or stop using tobacco products are going to help you make the right choices and guide you in the right direction.
Do you know what quitting means? Do you know how to avoid triggers? Have you planned your life around non-tobacco activities? Many people lack knowledge when they first try to quit and the whole attempt backfires. They have social contacts that they smoke with call them up to hang out, and before they know it, they are smoking again.
Or other people that try to quit and don’t expect such profound withdrawal symptoms. Without adequate knowledge of how to avoid triggers and prevent relapse a person has a significantly greater chance of relapsing into nicotine usage. Have you planned what to do if you feel the urge to use nicotine again? These are all things to consider that most people don’t know how to deal with.
6. Cold turkey vs. weaning (slow taper)
Most evidence suggests that “weaning” off of nicotine is more effective than quitting cold turkey. Although this doesn’t mean quitting “cold turkey” is impossible, the statistics indicate that the success rate is significantly lower than a gradual taper.
The idea behind a slow taper is to gradually reduce consumption of nicotine and eventually use “nicotine replacement” as opposed to a tobacco product. Once you have gradually reduced consumption of the nicotine replacement product, you finally “quit” and never look back. The tapering process may take awhile, but it is regarded as the more statistically effective process.
7. Motivation + Purpose
How motivated are you to kick the nicotine habit? Many people attempt to quit, but they really don’t want to quit “that bad.” Do you even know why you want to quit? Is it because you know someone that died of lung cancer? Is it because you don’t want your kids to pick up a smoking habit? Is it so that you can increase the likelihood of living a longer, healthier life?
Before you quit, it is important to either be highly motivated, and/or have a purpose (powerful reason explaining why quitting is necessary). If you are highly motivated and driven with purpose, you may be successful in quitting on your first try. If you have zero motivation and can’t seem to find a reason to quit, you may remain “stuck” and the process is going to seem much more difficult than it should.
Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities
You may notice symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine just a few hours after you were last exposed to it. Without it, you may start to develop cravings and in order to satisfy these cravings, your brain will urge you to use more nicotine. When you start to withdraw, you may notice any of the following symptoms listed below.
Everyone has a different experience when it comes to withdrawal. Some individuals may have a tougher time coming off of nicotine, while others are successful quitting “cold turkey” on their first attempt. It is important to be knowledgeable of any symptoms that you may experience so that you can recognize that they are completely normal and that you aren’t going insane.
It is advised to let the symptoms run their course and eventually you will fully recover. Nicotine is typically eradicated from the body within three days of quitting, but the psychological withdrawal symptoms may last for an extended period of time.
- Anger: It has been found that nicotine can help individuals cope with negative emotions. In many cases, people turn to using products that contain nicotine to help them deal with anger-provoking situations. It is no wonder that when the person stops using nicotine, they can get very angry. This is because they no longer have their nicotine to lean on to help them deal with a difficult situation.
- Anxiety: Many people that quit nicotine feel extremely anxious, to the point that they feel as though they might have an anxiety disorder. This intense anxiety has to do with the fact that while you smoked or used tobacco products, they elicited a calming response in your brain. Since you no longer have that “calm response” being generated, you may feel intense anxiety or nervousness as part of withdrawal.
- Blood pressure changes: Since smoking causes your blood pressure to increase, it is common to experience a temporary dip in blood pressure as your body recalibrates itself to normal. This should fix itself relatively quick.
- Chest tightness: Most people experience temporary chest tightness for the first few days of withdrawal. It should be noted that this typically does not last for more than a week. It is thought that relaxation techniques can help with this pain.
- Concentration problems: It has been noted that nicotine actually improves cognition. This is because it acts in part as a stimulant. When people quit nicotine, they may experience problems with concentration and “foggy thinking.” This is a result of decreases in dopamine as well as a lack of stimulation. Other people may experience confusion and/or memory problems, but these are less common.
- Constipation: Roughly one out of every six individuals that are withdrawing from nicotine experience constipation. Since nicotine stimulates bowel activity, you may experience the opposite when quitting the substance.
- Cravings: These may be intense for nicotine or tobacco products during your withdrawal. For most people the cravings tend to get easier as each day passes. It is common to experience cravings even after three months. Usually the first 90 days are the most difficult to deal with the cravings, and things get easier beyond the 90 day marker.
- Depression: Individuals that use nicotine products may experience an antidepressant effect as a result of the stimulating properties. Depression is a very common withdrawal symptom to experience over the course of the short and long term. During the short term (days), depression may feel like grief, and over a longer term (weeks) your outlook may be pretty pessimistic.
- Diarrhea: Some people have extremely bad gas as well as diarrhea when they quit nicotine. The gas may cause burps, farts, and obviously a lot of uncomfortable bowel movements. It is recommended that if you are dealing with diarrhea as a withdrawal symptom, that you pick up Imodium (an over the counter medication) to help.
- Drowsiness: When you quit using nicotine, you may notice that you feel excessively drowsy throughout the day. This is especially common in the early stages of withdrawal. Your body is trying to get used to functioning without the stimulant. Other related symptoms that you may experience include lethargy, tiredness, and excessive sleepiness.
- Fatigue: This goes hand in hand with the drowsiness that you may experience. You may have no energy and feel exhausted all day. Your energy levels will eventually return to normal as you continue through the withdrawal process.
- Headaches: Some people experience minor headaches, while others feel as if they are experiencing a full blown migraine. Take the time to relax and make sure you have some over the counter headache relief if they become difficult to deal with.
- Heart rate changes: When you stop using nicotine, there is evidence that your heart rate will change. When you use nicotine-based products, your heart rate increases. When you withdraw from these products, your heart rate may experience a temporary drop.
- Increased appetite: Nicotine is a well known appetite suppressant. Many people claim that they started smoking and lost a lot of weight – this is true for many. However, when withdrawing from nicotine, many individuals experience significant increases in appetite. They may actually experience food cravings and really want to eat.
- Insomnia: For certain individuals the process of withdrawing from nicotine is so stressful, that they cannot sleep at night. They may have extreme insomnia and really bad cravings for nicotine, especially during the early stages of withdrawal.
- Irritability: When you begin withdrawing from nicotine, you may notice that you become very irritable. It is common to feel frustrated and hot tempered during your withdrawal process. Little things may easily annoy you – just realize that this is part of the process.
- Loneliness: This is usually a result of the fact that an individual is now not using tobacco products with social contacts. The individual has to now find other, new social outlets so that they don’t feel as lonely. The loneliness may be overwhelming, especially early on in the withdrawal process, but it will improve over time.
- Nausea: Everything may evoke feelings of nausea – and it may feel as though you have flu-like symptoms for your first few days. Recognize that the nausea is your body’s way of attempting to readjust itself to life without the drug.
- Restlessness: Some people become very restless and experience “impatience.” This is because they don’t have their “fix” to help calm down the brain. They don’t know how to psychologically or physically cope without the drug. The restlessness may be so extreme that the person seems to find things to do just to take his or her mind off of the nicotine.
- Sore throat: Some people experience a slightly sore throat when they withdraw from nicotine – especially if they are smokers. This is merely a physical symptom that goes away over the first week or so during withdrawal.
- Stomach pain: Many individuals experience abdominal pain and/or pain in the stomach area when they first quit. This shouldn’t last longer than a week.
- Sweating: It is common for the body to sweat more than average during withdrawal. You may notice heavy night sweats and even sweats during the day. For some individuals, this is their body’s natural way of detoxifying.
- Tension: The entire body may feel “tense” and overly stressed. This tension is somewhat normal and will subside within the first week or so of withdrawal. Try to make sure that you do something relaxing – it will help with the tension.
- Time perception changes: During early stages of withdrawal, many individuals have experienced distortions in time perception. Time may seem as though it is passing at an extremely slow rate during the early stages of withdrawal. One craving may feel as though it lasts hours even though it only lasted a few minutes. This will improve as time continues to pass.
- Tingling in hands/feet: You may notice that when you stop using nicotine that your hands and/or feet start to tingle. This is a normal withdrawal symptom that many people experience.
- Vomiting: In some extreme cases, a person may actually vomit as a result of the nausea that they experience during withdrawal. In general, the vomiting is likely not going to last more than a few days. This may be uncomfortable to deal with, but a necessary part of the process.
- Weight gain: People gain weight as a result of increased appetite associated with nicotine withdrawal. When individuals are on nicotine, it acts as a stimulant and therefore typically decreases a person’s appetite. When they withdraw, their full appetite comes back and they may gain weight. The minor weight gain is not usually a major concern – things will eventually stabilize.
Note: It is known that Nicotine stays in your system for less than 24 hours after your final ingestion. However, its active metabolite “cotinine” lingers for longer duration (over 3 days). Most symptoms will emerge once the drug (and its metabolites) have been fully cleared from your body.
Nicotine Withdrawal Timeline: How long will it last?
There is no set timeline for withdrawal from nicotine that applies to everyone. Some individuals withdraw quicker from nicotine than others. Additionally, everyone has a different perspective as to what “withdrawal” means. For some people they are looking to simply overcome some of the physical and mental symptoms associated with the withdrawal process. The physical symptoms of withdrawal may only last a few weeks, but the psychological symptoms may last for months, a year, or multiple years.
For other individuals, they want to make it to a point where they no longer even crave any source of nicotine. Most research shows that nicotine is among the most addictive substances for humans. It activates the “reward system” of the brain and stimulates feelings of euphoria and pleasure. When using substances that contain nicotine, it has been found that it increases levels of dopamine and creates a very intense addiction.
During the withdrawal process, dopamine production decreases and sensitivity of acetylcholine receptors also decreases. It is this combination that makes the process very difficult to cope with. It is believed that other neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine are involved in withdrawal as well. This makes it very difficult for an individual to cope with the heightened sensitivity of their reward pathway in the brain, and most individuals end up using nicotine again at some point in the future.
The effects on your brain will last for months after the last time you used nicotine. This makes it extremely difficult for people to stop smoking and/or using tobacco. However, many people have successfully kicked their nicotine addiction. If you’d like more information, read the article “How to Quit Smoking Cigarettes” – it will help you address and understand the process. Even if you use smokeless tobacco, I highly recommend reading the same article.
In the end, quitting is mind over matter. It helps if you take the time to get adequate exercise, avoid triggers, socialize, eat healthy, and stay busy. As time passes, the process of quitting will get easier. Even if you are unable to fully withdraw from nicotine upon your first attempt, give it another shot. Most people that end up successfully quitting have tried to kick the habit multiple times.
29 thoughts on “Nicotine Withdrawal: Symptoms + Timeline”
Hi everyone… My comment is a little different as is my experience I’m curious about. I have been weaning down for at least 2 months. I had a bad habit of chain-smoking and hotboxing my cigs at the same time. At one time I was close to a pack a day, I’m smoking 5 cigs a day now but I don’t smoke my first cig until around 5-7 p.m. and my last one before bed around midnight.
My issue is now when I smoke a cigarette, no matter if it’s my 1st cig or 5th, I am having severe anxiety and a restless leg type feelings while smoking and headaches. It seems to be the opposite of what I see should be going on, and I’m a little confused on why this is happening.
I still cant eat good, etc. I have anxiety which I take klonopin for. This is my first time commenting on any site and if I ramble or don’t make any sense, I apologize. I’m just real worried about why I’m getting so anxious and uncomfortable when I smoke these cigs. It’s almost like a panic attack with nausea and headaches.
I also have had right side abdominal pain around where my gallbladder would be located. Anyone that has experienced this same strange feeling – if you have any answers, I would really appreciate some insight on why I get dizzy, anxious and all around uncomfortable when I smoke these cigs.
I can’t seem to wrap my brain around why it keeps happening. Any and all suggestions and answers would be great so I can figure out what is going on. Thanks and congratulations on everyone who has had success!
Hi everyone, just know that it’s not an easy journey but it is possible. The first few weeks are hell. Lack of sleep, anxiety to the roof, restlessness, mood swings. Everything seems out of place. The feeling is very bad I tell you. I had also quit weed the same time I quit smoking.
This combination can be overwhelming. Just make sure you don’t go back to it. I thought something was seriously wrong with me but its just the withdrawals. Make sure you tire yourself out during the day while taking lots of water.
This will help with the sleep. And don’t take time to be alone, just continue with your normal schedule it will help distract you from all the anxiety and panic attacks. Reading the comments here saved me. I really appreciate it so if you are reading this you are not alone.
I went from 32 to 34 packs per month to just 6 packs per month and I am in my 7th week of huge reduction. Figured I would reduce before quitting all together since I have been a heavy smoker for more than 40 years. I was right to do this.
I have had all the symptoms you all have mentioned. But I also have very heavy night sweats for several weeks now and I don’t sweat often. Have to get up several times a night and change clothes. As soon as I get over these symptoms, I plan on continuing my reduction until I am at zero!
Night sweats are caused by low blood sugar levels. Drink fresh orange juice to raise blood sugar level and the night sweats will reduce or go away completely. Nicotine stimulates the pancreas which releases sugar in to the blood stream… Now that you have cut down, not so much sugar is being released in to your blood stream.
Day 3 cold turkey. I have been smoking 20 a day for 13 years. I vomiting a lot and am completely bed bound as if I have the flu. I ache all over. My throat is sore from a cough and the vomiting. All in all – not great!
Going on day 7. I’m 34 & used to chew tobacco for almost 16 years. Have a serious gas problem. Maximum 2-4 hrs/day sleep during the week. Please give suggestions for sleep & diarrhea.
Going on day 10 cold turkey. I am extremely anxious, to the point of anxiety attacks, fast heartbeat, and hot flashes. I’m 21 and I feel like I’m going through menopause. Also I’m very constipated which makes my appetite suppressed, which I find weird as most of you reported diarrhea and increased appetite. Any of you experience getting hot one second and cold the next or real bad paranoia of non-existent health problems? Also I’m super proud of us all! Here’s to crappy withdrawals leading to a happy and healthy longer life!!
Hey you’re not alone. Quit roughly a week ago cold turkey, and I am also experiencing constipation, and a still suppressed appetite. Everyone’s body chemistry is different so don’t panic because you’re not experiencing exactly what someone else is.
I’ve been getting the hot and cold flashes too. In addition to that though I’ve been vomiting and aching like I have the flu. Really depressed too. No fun!
Anyways, way to go reaching 10 days! I’m only on day 2, but reading these comments is really helping me hang in. Thanks everyone for sharing! You can do it!
I am 22 and today is my 6th day of quitting both tobacco and cannabis. I’m being feeling tired and sleepy both during the day and at night, I am having mild headache, itchiness in my throat and stomach upset too. I was a heavy and persistent smoker of both cannabis (marijuana) and tobacco for approximately 6 years. Best wishes to whoever out there who is working on quitting.
I chewed tobacco from the min I got up to the min I closed my eyes to sleep. All day everyday and all night. Huge chews, chewed a can a day for 20 years. Well anyway I just recently got a virus that was going around and for the first time I really wasn’t feeling good enough to chew… couple days went by and I thought this would be a really good time to quit.
Its been two weeks and 4 days. I landed in the ER for major diarrhea and was dehydrated. I was having diarrhea all day and night everyday. I thought it was some virus or something, Drs did bunch of tests, C dif, toxins, ova and parasites… all negative. They released me and I’m still having major diarrhea all day and night.
I’m supposed to have a follow up with my PCP. But I started thinking maybe I have no virus I’m just going through a major withdrawal? Sorry I probably didn’t explain myself very well or maybe over-explained, but has anyone experienced chronic diarrhea for two weeks and going from nicotine withdrawals? No flu symptoms, just feel very weak, no appetite, feel very drained and weak. But the diarrhea won’t stop!!! Gonna try Imodium.
I’m 33 and have smoked about a pack of cigarettes a day for 18 years. I go to the gym for cardio on and off, so the biggest thing I notice about not smoking is that my heart rate drops off a cliff when I’m not smoking. It takes 10 minutes of warming up to get to where I want my heart rate for my workouts, and while smoking it would get there damn near instantly, I’d have to hold back to avoid overdoing it.
Otherwise, everything feels stressy, anxious, miserable… Waking life has the quality of a nightmare based on awkwardness rather than a direct threat. I can’t focus on things, I’m tired and restless at the same time, and on day 2, I remember from other times I quit, that the coughing hasn’t even started yet. But the gym is a life saver. Whenever the stress builds up, I just go and spend it at the gym.
I quit 4 days ago. I can deal with the constant cough, headache, nausea, but my heart is beating out of my chest. Anyone else had this problem before?
Lori, I’m on day three and yesterday and so far this AM my chest has been either extremely tight or I feel like my heart will jump through it. So I’m with you.
Hi everyone; End of day 3 for me. Lovely stuff, abdominal pain, excessive sweating and the want just to smoke to deal with it all which, of course, is like shooting yourself in the foot. What do you do when you want a reward or “break” after completing a task etc? I have found that I actually need to redefine what a “break” is without a cigarette. Onward.
Gail, What did you do to redefine your break? I understand it’s different for all of us but I’m curious as to what you used for a mechanism to cope. Feel free to email me. We can discuss if feel like it. -Gary ([email protected])
I’m on my 3rd day of quitting and it’s hard throughout the day and at night I’m sweating like really bad. I do suffer from a headache and cramps but I tried exercising and I very time I have a craving I think about how I actually damaged my body and mind with smoking. I’ve tried to quit numerous of times but I’m ready this time. Every time I think about all the things I have to go through just to quit this drug makes it a little bit easier. It’s a sign that it wasn’t healthy.
Hey I’m on day 2 of stopping smoking and I feel like crap. Both day one & two I have nausea and have vomiting, diarrhea, mild head pain, heart irregularities, and tummy pains. I feel like I have the flu I feel horrible like I am coming off a hard drug. Which I have never done but heard stories but going through all this is well worth it to stop for good so you won’t have to go through this again.
It’s truly a reality check and I’m going to deal with this continually put Almighty God first and for great health I will prevail. As I type you I’m going through cold sweats and feel like I want to turn my body inside out and dip it in bleach… Lol!! Good side though my body is also cheering me on I can breath better, my ability to taste is slowly going normal.
I notice more energy even though I do feel very sleepy. I can’t wait and I will stick it out you should to. When it all boils down our lives depend on it…Prayers and best hopes to anybody that’s trying to stop. Yes we suffer now but we will be champions later… Stay encouraged!!! ????
I stopped cold turkey 7 months ago. Now I feel nausea, anxiety and depressed. Had all the early withdrawal symptoms but the long term effects are bad as well. However, remain positive and proud to have stopped smoking. Will not smoke again ever.
I have quit 5 months ago and I’m still Not Recovered From Withdrawal. You all write the normal and general symptoms but you don’t know how bad it is This does not affect all the people, I think 30% have minor symptoms. Here my list… *hope I’ll manage to quit but some day are very bad, and if you are working, it is like hell. The first 3 weeks the changes were fantastic.
After 3 weeks = abdominal pain, dizziness, fainting, loss of appetite, fatigue, blurred vision, loss of interest in hobbies. 4 months = Anxiety, SOB, lung irritation, dizziness,fainting, sore throat, dry throat, strong heartbeat I feel very down. Feel like want to die. These symptoms last from a whole day to few hours, made thousands medical exams to check if was something else but…
Last Saturday I was feeling very dizzy and decided to smoke 2 cigarettes. Voila, everything was OK. It’s a pity that from a legal drug I have all these symptoms… Greetings From Greece.
I went cold turkey from a big addiction to nicotine in snus – used it day and night!
Day 1 – tightness in chest and uncomfortable feeling in upper arms
Day 2- same as day 1 but very irritable and found it difficult to concentrate. major sugar cravings!!
really wanted to go to the gym! I never go to gym and usually hate exercise!
Day 3- felt ok but Had bad nose bleed. Needed sugar!
Day 4- started to notice cravings more and more, but manageable.
I am now on day 5. I can’t wait to go to gym tomorrow and sauna and get every last bit of the nicotine toxin out of me! Note: I have had Reiki to help change my thinking from… nicotine is the best thing ever… to nicotine is poison. Hope this is helpful to someone. It’s worth it. Good luck :)
You’re scaring me. I’m having weight LOSS not gain and experiencing SCARY palpitations, abdominal pain, vertigo and tingling for more than 4 weeks.
Hey Jenna, Not sure how old this post is but I just came across it while looking for someone who is/was having the same symptoms as me. Did this end up passing?
I’m a few days in now. I’ve had restlessness, nausea, an inability to concentrate and terrible depression. By far the worst symptom however, has been the diarrhea, which has stuck with me throughout much of everyday and has been accompanied by painful stomach cramps. I’m glad at least that Bronchitis I’ve developed is forcing me to do this, hopefully I’ll feel much better in every respect when I come out of the other side. Don’t give up hope friends!
I thought it was just me, the gas and diarrhea have been awful, it’s getting depressing. I will however not give up on my quit. I’m going to make it this time. I think I will pick up some Imodium and see if that helps.
I am at the end of my 3rd day of quitting smoking. In fact it is 2.40am and I can’t sleep again. I have the worst headaches, horrible lower back pain, pain in the tips of my 4th toes, restless legs, and my blood pressure is lower than ever. Used to be 50/80 now 46/79. I am 24 years old and have smoked 6 ish a day for 9 years. My pulse is also very slow… 48bpm. Is this normal? I also feel… Really restless.
Same here. I am in my 10th day of quitting and BP is around your rates too. Heart rate extremely low (sometimes 52 while before I quit resting heart rate was never below 78) and generally many very annoying physical symptoms.
Great therapeutic read for me giving up smoking ? cigarettes cold turkey. I was very interested in drowsiness which struck me when I gave them up. I felt depressed as well and it helped. Thanks. Hugh Smith
Everyone should read, “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking.” It’s a great book and really puts things in perspective. After you’re done, you get to celebrate being a non smoker immediately.