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Nicotine withdrawal

What makes you crave a smoke?

nicotine withdrawal symptoms - dragon on man smoking

Why do you get nicotine withdrawal symptoms when you quit smoking... and how to deal with them and get that dragon off your back?

"If you're going through hell, keep going." Winston Churchill.

So you've got a little war going on there? Rest assured it will never be as hellish as Churchill's reference to World War ll.

Talking of war, there's a saying: "It's not who's RIGHT, but who's LEFT that wins." Very funny, but look at it this way: You've got one side, your body, declaring that it is right, it wants nicotine right now!

And by the way, chemically it is right!

And it's throwing up nicotine withdrawal booby traps. It has spies burrowing into your brain, saying, "You like smoking don't you, you need me."

Well of course you like smoking, that's why many smokers say, "I don't want to quit, I ENJOY smoking." And they do indeed, because they are addicted, and there is a great deal of pleasurable satisfaction in relieving an addiction by topping it up with a fix, and conversely to deny yourself that fix is painful.

On the other side, there's you, your mind telling you, No No NO—I want to be rid of all this, I don't want to be a smoker... but help!

So who's going to win? Who is going to be left? If you lose out to your chemical craving body, you will be taken prisoner again, and whoever heard of a free and happy prisoner?

Actual Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

These are temporary and aren't much fun. You might get none, some, or all and more!

  • Your mind will play tricks on you and try to dominate your thoughts. Mood swings, loneliness, lack of concentration, emptiness, agitation, stress, anger, self-pity, and just general crankiness might happen. These psychological symptoms are explained more in Side Effects of Quitting Smoking.

  • Headaches or a general heaviness. This is a classic smoking withdrawal symptom, often caused by your sinuses clearing out.

  • Shaking, sweating or feeling very cold.

  • Coughing, hacking, runny nose, wheezing and shortness of breath. Seems strange to get these when you've quit, but your body is ridding itself of years of tar and built-up residues. In other words, at last taking the opportunity of having a good clean-out.

  • Insommnia is common. Well, it is stressful to quit and break your normal patterns. As with all stress — good or bad, sleep challenges can surface.

  • Sour stomach or stomach pains. Your digestion might get out of whack for a little while.

  • Pains, pains, pains. Some smokers get stomach cramps, sore gums, pains in chest... pains anywhere. Your mind and body are going through a healing crisis and they are going to remind you of what they are missing.

  • Tiredness and a general zapped feeling.

You can break free

No withdrawal symptoms are life-threatening, there's no reason to panic or even suffer much.

Success and rewards come from a bit of adversity... you work hard, let's say building a garden. Your back hurts, your nails are broken, your arm is scratched, that bee sting hurts... but wow, you did it, and don't you feel so good now.

I can assure you, along with thousands of happy former smokers, that if you follow the right strategies and make the small sacrifices to get over the physical dependence of nicotine, you'll think all your birthdays have come at once.

So, don't sweat the small stuff, because really nicotine withdrawal is less of a problem than you've been scared into believing.

nicotine addiction - reducing cigarettes

It's out of your circulatory system in 48 to 72 hours, depending on how heavy a smoker you are.

So that battle with nicotine withdrawal symptoms that's going on in your head will be brief and over with in a few days once you quit your last smoke.

There are residues left in your tissues that can take months to filter out, but they don't give you physical nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

What you now think of cravings are the habitual and psychological associations you have with your addiction.

You crave smoking because of programs in your brain, the feelings, because of triggers to light up... such as coffee, smoko time, pub socializing, peer group pressures, to relax after eating, working, driving etc.

You feel upset, and a cigarette helped take your mind of this. You swear you can't possibly think straight without having a cigarette at certain times of the day to get you through, or before a meeting, or doing paperwork.

You crave the camaraderie of other smokers, and all the other psychological cravings that smokers start off with or develop later, from craving to be sophisticated to craving to take away the pain of sadness, boredom and depression and so on.

Have you found yourself in one or more of these situations?

The emotional smoker in you

Have a read of Side effects of quitting smoking. It's a punchy account of what can happen to your emotions.

Back to the physiological side of nicotine

Don't lose sight of the fact that if you relax and look on the bright side of where you are going to come out of all this, then any sensations of nicotine beating a hasty retreat will soon be replaced with your body in recovery mode both physically and mentally.

Your internal war will be over and done with quickly!

The first few times you actually realize you are not craving a smoke, are wonderful. Obviously everyone is different. Some smokers get no nicotine withdrawals, some mild, some quite frazzled... but always bearable, always worth hanging in there for that brief time.

The experience of saying to yourself, hey, I don't feel like a smoke, I'm nowhere near craving for a cigarette, is a mighty good feeling.

You'll feel your body ... with a few ups and downs ... normalizing. At some stage many former smokers find their body sending them signals of being repelled by smoke.

Those previous nicotine withdrawal symptoms are... "gosh, I can't remember, did I really crave that rubbish!"

The need has gone, your system has no use for nicotine now, it has lost that craving to top up. In fact nicotine would be as useful to you now as a fluffy duster on a beach!

That nicotine dragon on your back

nicotine withdrawal symptoms - nicotine dragon on back

So what's what in nicotine, and what does it do to certain bits of your grey matter to make you crave the dang stuff?

The tobacco industry keeps trying to convince us that nicotine is not that addictive... ha, and pigs may fly.

But the anti-smoking lobby also happens to push a porky... that is that nicotine is addictive to everyone.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms—nope, not always. I have seen smokers drop their habit just like that, with not a trace of physical tobacco craving, apart from the temporary empty feeling of missing the habit and something to hold and do.

And why do some smokers only smoke socially... in fact they can go for days without it, but with their friends at the end of the working day or week, you can be sure they would feel mentally nude without a smoke.

Pop on some lippy, sparkly earrings, a ciggie... and they're dressed to go.

Or for a man, whip off the tie or the overalls, undo the top shirt button, slick back the hair and light up.

Some people are allergic to nicotine!

Let's not forget the people who get a violent reaction from tobacco products, they are so sensitive to the poisons in nicotine that even second-hand smoke makes them feel yuk.

It's the chronic smokers, the ones who have a high tolerance to nicotine, who need strong doses often to top them up... these are the real chemical addicts, the ones that get such a "high" from smoking that they get the worst physical nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

Quitting smoking cravings are similar to caffeine cravings. They are both alkaloids, and are classed as psychoactive drugs. Actually caffeine withdrawal is milder, but can take longer.

So whereabouts on the spectrum of nicotine withdrawal symptoms are you? Mild to... !!?.


Your brain produces neurotransmitters... chemicals that regulate your moods, such as norepinephrine and dopamine. If you don't have the means to produce enough of these chemicals, your mood suffers.

And another chemical called serotonin, which is an especially important "feel good" hormone, is sometimes deficient.

Nicotine doesn't help with serotonin, but by stimulating the production of the other neurotransmitters it can help make up for the lack of serotonin, and produce similar pleasant feelings.

Anti-depression drugs work by topping up serotonin in a roundabout way, that's why stop smoking drugs such as Zyban can initially help some people feel better and thus less of a need for nicotine to make them feel good. (Serotonin is obtained from sunlight and certain foods, and also its production can be affected by lifestyles and genetics.)

So nicotine stimulates the supply of other positive hormones such as norepinephrine and dopamine... aah, and these are what give you the warm fuzzies.

The 7 second bullet

nicotine withdrawals - cigarette bullet
    • One cigarette gives you about 10 puffs, and each inhale delivers a jolt of nicotine that reaches your brain within 7 seconds... faster than any other delivery method.

    • Now there's your brain, stimulated to produce powerful chemical messengers, chief amongst them being the aforementioned norepinephrine, which regulates alertness and arousal.

    • Then there's dopamine, which is part of your brain's pleasure mechanism, also achieved by many other ways, including exercise.

    • And don't forget beta-endorphin, to lessen anxiety and pain.

    • All in all, you are in the addictive grip of a series of repeated pleasure "hits." Sort of mildly smiley, unworried, alert relaxation.

    • And with each hit you reinforce the seemingly positive experience, and smoking becomes a habitual part of your life.

But alas, as you know, the odds are against you.

Firstly those nice feelings are always temporary and dissipate to leave you feeling flat, because you have sub-consciously programmed yourself into believing there is no other way to get those feelings.

Secondly, what a bummer, those wretched side effects... just like war with its mayhem, death and destruction.

Remember this: Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are a tiny blip of time compared to the horror of the real symptoms of smoking.

nicotine withdrawals - wasted money coins

And let's also get real about the time and money down the drain... or up in smoke!

The longer you leave it, the worse things will become.

Why not do something now, if you are not happy about smoking in your life. Then in a few weeks you can sit back and relax with much more interesting and healthy ways to get your highs.

Imagine... any former nicotine withdrawal symptoms will seem like a pimple on a pumpkin!

First-class and effective techniques to deal powerfully with cravings and emotions are in my Quit for Good Program

And to sweeten your life even further, extra pearls of wisdom, from EXPERTS (former smokers) are in the free bonuses. These include remedies to fix any dreaded nicotine withdrawal symptoms that you fear may crop up.

HOME page — How to Quit Smoking Guide