Smoking Cessation and Withdrawal

If you smoke, you may already know how it feels to stop smoking. But you may not know what causes these feelings.

Nicotine is the main addictive drug in cigarette tobacco. Nicotine is also in other tobacco products, like chewing tobacco. Most tobacco users, including smokers, are addicted to nicotine. If you have this addiction, your brain and body have become used to having nicotine in them. If you stop adding nicotine to your brain and body, such as if you quit smoking, you may have nicotine withdrawal.

What does nicotine withdrawal look like?

Withdrawal is different for every smoker. You may not notice any signs of withdrawal when you stop smoking. Or you may notice any of these signs:

  • Feeling sad, anxious, restless or irritable.
  • Feeling hungry.
  • Some small weight gain (under 10 pounds).
  • A slower heart rate.
  • Trouble thinking clearly.
  • Trouble sleeping.

These feelings will come and go. They are usually strongest in the first week or two after your last cigarette. You will likely feel tempted to smoke again. This craving is a signal that your body is trying to adjust to not having nicotine in it. If you can, let it adjust. It will get there!

It’s a good idea to plan how you will handle cravings. Cravings may last longer than the other signs of withdrawal. They can be caused by things that remind you of smoking, called triggers.

What are common smoking triggers?

Knowing what triggers your urge to smoke can help you stay in control. For instance, you may want to smoke when you:

  • Feel stressed or sad.
  • Take a work break.
  • Talk on the phone.
  • Drive.
  • Finish a meal.
  • Drink coffee or alcohol.
  • See someone else smoke.

Once you know your triggers, you can try to limit them. Cravings often last for just 5 or 10 minutes. List things you can do to distract yourself in that time, like call a friend. Keep the list handy for when you have a craving.

Medicines can also help manage nicotine withdrawal. Ask your doctor about medicines that may help you. Your doctor can also help you with other questions you may have. You can also call the Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for help.

Withdrawal can be uncomfortable for anyone, but there is no health danger from nicotine withdrawal. Actually, quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health.