Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances we know of, coming close to notorious illegal drugs like heroin in terms of how hooked it can get you.
But knowing your enemy is half the battle, and in this guide we’ll help those trying to kick the habit by exploring the struggles they’ll face with nicotine in the coming days, weeks and months.
Stopping smoking is fantastic for your health and you’ll start to feel the benefits almost immediately.
As an ex-smoker, just some of the things you can expect to look forward to include:
As you smoke, your body and brain get use to having nicotine in them. When you quit and your nicotine supply slows down or stops, you’ll experience withdrawal.
Nicotine withdrawal can last for weeks to months after you stop smoking. It will usually reach a peak within a few weeks, before gradually wearing off.
Quitting smoking is an uphill battle, but by planning ahead and arming yourself with coping strategies, it’s well within your grasp to achieve.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to kicking the habit, but some of the most popular methods include:
Going cold turkey: In this method, you simply stop smoking altogether. There’s no cutting down, nicotine replacement aids or prescription medication involved - just you and your willpower.
Nicotine replacement therapy: Using nicotine replacement therapy can help you to cope better with withdrawal symptoms by gradually weaning you off it. This can involve a variety of nicotine withdrawal aids, from gums, patches and lozenges to inhalers and nasal sprays.
Some of these are available over-the-counter, while others will need to be prescribed by a doctor.
Prescription medication: Certain medications that were originally used to treat mental health issues like depression have been found to be highly effective as aids to stop smoking.
These include drugs like bupropion and varenicline, which interfere with your brain’s reward mechanism and the receptors that interact with nicotine.
Read more about smoking medication.
The symptoms of withdrawal can differ from one person to the next, but is always unpleasant to deal with. Some of the most commonly-experienced nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:
Nicotine replacement therapy is a popular way to reduce the effects of withdrawal and minimise the chances of you giving in. You’re most likely to slip up and start smoking again during the first week after you quit, so it’s important to be prepared for the worst during this period.
Triggers are situations or substances, like alcohol, that you associate with smoking. For instance, you might usually pop outside for a smoke after a big meal or with your morning coffee.
Avoiding these triggers will be a great help to keeping you on track to quit and it’s a bad idea to plan to quit during a period where you know you’ll be subjected to these (e.g. a wedding or holiday).
Nicotine is associated with an increase in the levels of blood glucose, since it interferes with the way your body uses insulin - forcing it to make additional glucose.
Once you quit, your blood sugar level will drop drastically, and this is a big contributor to withdrawal symptoms.
This is also one of the reasons an increased appetite and weight gain is so common in those who’ve recently quit. One way to combat this is by changing your dietary pattern, and drinking something with a bit of sugar in like cordial.
Eating doesn’t release sugar at the same rate nicotine forces your body to, so be careful not to overeat. If you wait about twenty minutes, your blood sugar levels will begin to respond to the food you’ve eaten and you should feel a bit better.
Blood sugar levels should return to normal within a few days and if you’re maintaining a proper diet, the associated symptoms should gradually fade away.
If you quit cold turkey, your body will be free of nicotine in about three days. However, your cravings may carry on for much longer.
Most people’s withdrawal symptoms usually peak after a couple of days and should be completely gone within a few months at the most.
If you’d like to learn more about how quitting smoking affects your body and brain, we’ve put together this handy timeline that details what you’ll be going through at every stage.
And if you’re looking for coping strategies, we’ve compiled 107 of the best tips for quitting smoking that will manage your cravings.
Kicking the habit is an uphill battle, but it’s not one that you’ll have to fight alone. You’re around 22% more likely to quit with the help of a medical professional, so if you’re looking to stop smoking - see a doctor online now.
Our GPs can discuss the reasons you’re looking to quit, talk through any challenges you’ll face like nicotine withdrawal and if necessary, prescribe medication to get you through the worst of your withdrawal.