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What is withdrawal?

Most smokers are very aware of how they feel when they stop smoking, but they may not know why. Nicotine is the main addictive substance in cigarettes and other forms of tobacco. About 80–90% of regular smokers are addicted to nicotine. Nicotine is a drug that affects many parts of your body, including your brain. Over time, your body and brain get used to having nicotine in it.

When you stop smoking, your body has to adjust to no longer having nicotine in its system. Withdrawal is your body adjusting to not having nicotine. (See below for a list of the symptoms of withdrawal). If you have quit before, then you know that some of this adjusting can be unpleasant, but you can get through it. For most people the worst of the symptoms only last a few days to a couple weeks. But cravings for cigarettes can last longer. Visit the Benefits of Quitting section for tips on getting past cravings.

What are the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal?

Withdrawal is different for every smoker, but here a list of the most common symptoms. The symptoms you felt when you quit smoking before is a good way to guess what you may feel this time too. Medications and behavior changes can help manage the symptoms. Remember that the symptoms, including craving, will fade with every day that you stay smokefree.

  • Feeling down or sad
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Feeling irritable, on edge, grouchy
  • Having trouble thinking clearly and concentrating
  • Feeling restless and jumpy
  • Slower heart rate
  • Feeling more hungry or gaining weight

Why do I still want to smoke? The other withdrawal symptoms stopped weeks ago.

For many smokers, the craving for a cigarette lasts longer than the other symptoms of withdrawal. This is because craving can be set off by reminders of smoking. These reminders are sometimes called "triggers." For most smokers, smoking was something that they did in many parts of their life. So, there are many places and things that trigger a craving because it reminds them of smoking. This means it is important to have a plan and a few ways you will handle cravings. Over time, as you are no longer smoking as part of your life, activities will no longer remind you of smoking.

Is withdrawal from nicotine dangerous?

Although withdrawal can be uncomfortable and some people may feel high levels of symptoms, there is no health danger from nicotine withdrawal. In fact, quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health. Even extreme withdrawal symptoms will fade in a week or so.

Some people do experience increased sadness after quitting smoking. This is especially important to watch for if you have ever had depression. If you do become depressed and are having extreme sadness, you should get help. Learn more about depression.


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