breaking a cigarette

How to Handle Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

Because nicotine is an addictive drug, certain feelings are often experienced when the drug is stopped. These feelings are called withdrawal symptoms or “symptoms of recovery.” This means that your body is healing and getting back to when it was nicotine free. Symptoms may start within hours of quitting, and may even peak in the first 2 to 4 days. Everyone reacts differently to them.

Smoking Withdrawal Symptoms

The most common symptoms include:

If any of these symptoms persist or cause you concern, see your health care provider. You should never feel major discomfort or pain during the process of giving up cigarettes.

Sleep disturbances

Some people experience difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early, or frequent awakenings. This is a result of an increase of oxygen to the brain, which is cutting off your body’s supply of nicotine. Some tips to manage sleep disturbances are increasing your activity when you are awake. Try some deep breathing, and do not eat or drink anything with caffeine after 6 p.m.

Headaches

Headaches are another common symptom that is caused by the removal of nicotine and increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain. You can treat headaches as you normally would by resting quietly and drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids, especially water.

Difficulty concentrating

You may find you have a harder time concentrating, which is a sign of withdrawal from the stimulant effect of nicotine. Feel free to take breaks and increase activity. Breaking up work into small blocks of time is a good strategy. Remember to keep ignoring the feeling and try not to consume too much caffeine.

Coughing

Coughing is your body’s way of getting rid of the tar and chemicals in your lungs. You may see extra mucus. To help with coughing spells, keep fluids nearby like water. Drinking liquids thins and loosens the mucus. Also, cough drops are great to help soothe your throat. It is important that you do not use medicine to stop your cough.

Emotional changes

Because of the physical addiction and psychological dependence smoking has, it is only natural to notice changes in your mood. You may feel impatient, irritable, anxious, nervous, angry, or sad. Talking about your feelings is very beneficial. Ask your family and friends for support and remind them to be patient with you. Most importantly, do something fun that makes you happy.

It is important to remember that these symptoms are temporary and the best way to get rid of them is to stay smoke-free! For a full list of symptoms of recovery, check out our Journey to a Smoke Free Life booklet online. You can also enroll in a Smoking Cessation program at many of our UPMC facilities.