Kicking a smoking habit can be very difficult due to the highly addictive nature of nicotine. Withdrawal symptoms can affect people who have smoked for years or just weeks and last for days. Nicotine withdrawal impacts a person’s entire body, including physical, mental, and emotional symptoms.
Quitting smoking often seems like an impossible task because of nicotine addiction and the potential for withdrawal. However, understanding nicotine withdrawal and how to safely handle withdrawal symptoms can help a person through the process. Keep reading to learn more about nicotine withdrawal, symptoms of withdrawal, and how to get help with nicotine withdrawal.
What is Nicotine?
Nicotine is a chemical compound found in tobacco and tobacco products. The chemical contains nitrogen and acts as a stimulant drug. As the main psychoactive ingredient in tobacco products, nicotine can speed up messages between the brain and the rest of the body.
When tobacco is burned, like smoking a cigarette, tar and carbon monoxide are released. Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas. The most common usage of nicotine is in cigarettes. However, it can also be smoked in cigars or pipes. Smokeless tobacco includes chewing tobacco and wet or dry snuff. Electronic cigarettes may still contain nicotine, even if they do not contain dried tobacco leaves.
If a person smokes tobacco, nicotine is absorbed through the lining in the lungs. Chewing tobacco or snuff can cause nicotine to be absorbed through the nose or mouth. It is also possible to absorb nicotine through the skin. Once absorbed, nicotine enters the bloodstream and goes to the brain.
The chemical compound is highly addictive, and nicotine is greatly responsible for the continued use of tobacco products. The thousands of chemicals contained in tobacco and tobacco smoke are very dangerous and produce serious health issues, including lung disease and cancer. In short, nicotine perpetuates the addiction and the chemicals in tobacco produce negative health effects.
More about nicotine
Nicotine is classified as a stimulant, or a drug that causes the user to experience a kick. Nicotine stimulates the adrenal glands in the body and causes a release of adrenaline. The drug also acts on the pancreas, increasing blood sugar or glucose levels.
Nicotine can also produce an indirect effect with the release of dopamine. This pleasurable effect is similar in nature to the effects of taking heroin or cocaine. Depending on the dosage, nicotine can also act as a sedative.
Tobacco products are the most common ways to consume nicotine. When someone smokes a cigarette, carbon monoxide and tar are released from the burning tobacco. Using nicotine has been linked to serious side effects, and long-term usage can result in chronic diseases and damaging health effects.
Regularly smoking products that contain nicotine can lead to:
- Eye diseases
- Respiratory diseases
- Coronary heart disease
- Aortic aneurism
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Certain types of cancers
While most people recognize the dangers of smoking, they fail to realize that nicotine addiction is often at the heart of the problem. Using tobacco products releases harmful chemicals and toxins, which are absorbed in the bloodstream. However, nicotine is an addictive substance that can make it difficult for a person to stop smoking despite the health risks. Keep reading got learn more about nicotine addiction, including signs of addiction and treatment options.
Is nicotine physically addictive?
Yes, nicotine is physically addictive. Smokers often have a difficult time quitting because they are addicted to nicotine found in tobacco products. Many people try to quit smoking every year, but they are unsuccessful. Only about 6% of smokers successfully quit smoking each year.
Why is nicotine addictive?
When someone uses nicotine, they experience a surge of endorphins in the reward center of the brain. This surge can cause brief feelings of euphoria. Increases in dopamine levels reinforces the behavior of using nicotine. Over time, repeated exposure can cause changes to occur in the brain. When someone tries to stop using nicotine, they experience withdrawal symptoms.
Nicotine Gum Addiction
Nicotine gum is often used as an alternative to smoking as an aid to help people quit. While chewing nicotine gum is better for your health than smoking, nicotine gum can still be addictive. Using nicotine gum as a replacement therapy still comes with potential risks. There are growing studies that connect nicotine with cancer. Nicotine can also add stress to your heart and increase a person’s blood pressure. The drug can also increase a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke.
The amount of nicotine in nicotine gum is typically less than the amount of nicotine absorbed from smoking. However, nicotine is still addictive in both forms. If nicotine gum helps you stop smoking, the next step may be to overcome a nicotine addiction. Your doctor can provide guidance on using nicotine replacement therapies safely.
Nicotine Lozenge Addiction
Like nicotine gum, nicotine lozenges are commonly used as nicotine replacement therapy. The sugar-free tablets are similar to candy and come in a variety of flavors. The lozenge can dissolve within 20 to 30 minutes, and the person absorbs nicotine into their bloodstream. Nicotine lozenges can help relieve cravings to smoke in the short term.
Nicotine lozenges can also be abused, like tobacco products or nicotine gum. The lozenges resemble candy in size, shape, and taste. It can be easy for an individual to abuse nicotine lozenges. Nicotine lozenges can be purchased without a prescription, but it is essential that you follow all instructions from the manufacturer. While nicotine lozenges can help an individual stop smoking, they may need to wean themselves off the lozenges over time.
Is vaping addictive without nicotine?
Vaping and the use of e-cigarettes have grown in popularity in recent years. While some may consider vaping harmless without nicotine, there are still side effects of using e-cigarettes. Some people may choose to vape with nicotine-free fluids in an effort to stop smoking while others vape recreationally.
Nicotine-free vaping can cause irritation to the mouth and airways. The components of vape juice can cause irritation once they are heated through the e-cigarette. The compounds formed by these vaporized substances can potentially be cancer-causing or carcinogenic. Nicotine-free vaping can also cause inflammation by triggering the body’s immune system response.
Signs of Nicotine Addiction
Recognizing the signs of nicotine addiction can help an individual seek treatment as early as possible. As a person uses nicotine, they can develop a tolerance. More nicotine is required to produce the same pleasurable effects that they experienced at lower doses. Building a tolerance can cause long-term effects on the brain and body. When a person stops using nicotine, they experience withdrawal symptoms.
Identifying signs of nicotine addiction in yourself or a loved one can help a person receive the treatment they need. Common signs of nicotine addiction include:
- The inability to stop smoking – A person may want to quit smoking or using nicotine but find themselves unable to stop on their own.
- Withdrawal symptoms occur when you stop smoking – If a person experiences withdrawal when they stop using nicotine, it can be more difficult to stop smoking.
- An individual continues smoking despite negative consequences – Addiction is typically present when a person continues to use a substance even though they are aware of the negative health problems that can or have developed.
- Social isolation occurs – An individual who is addicted to nicotine may start isolating themselves, avoiding social gatherings and social situation, especially in smoke-free areas.
Nicotine Addiction Symptoms
In addition to the ways that nicotine can impact a person’s life, it can also cause significant physical symptoms. The noticeable physical symptoms that occur in relation to nicotine addiction are actually due to withdrawal. When a person is addicted to nicotine and goes for a period without using it, they can experience withdrawal symptoms.
Common symptoms of nicotine addiction and withdrawal include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Panic attacks
- Trouble sleeping
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
How long does it take to get addicted to nicotine?
Nicotine addiction develops differently for each individual. However, it is possible to experience symptoms of nicotine addiction within just a few days of starting to smoke. An individual may smoke only a few cigarettes and develop an addiction to nicotine. For others, nicotine addiction and dependence can occur gradually with daily cigarette smoking. There is not a clear way to know how many cigarettes or days of smoking it takes for an individual to develop a nicotine dependence or addiction.
Dangers of Nicotine Addiction
Smoking is always dangerous, even if a person only does it once. For people who are not frequent smokers, there can be considerable short-term effects of using nicotine. For those who smoke for a longer period of time and suffer from nicotine addiction, there are considerable long-term health risks.
Using tobacco can cause infertility, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, cancer, and stroke. While nicotine is the addictive chemical found in cigarettes, the chemicals in tobacco are carcinogenic. Smokers are at a greater risk of cancer, and smoking can lead to lung cancer deaths.
How addictive is nicotine compared to other drugs?
People may be surprised to learn that nicotine is among the most addictive drugs. Addiction is different for every individual, and there is not a clear-cut way to determine which drugs are the most addictive. However, addictiveness is often based on dependence, withdrawal, tolerance, reinforcement, and intoxication. These five factors contribute to how a drug is abused, how it impacts an individual, and how difficult it is to stop using the drug.
Alcohol and nicotine are considered among the most addictive substances. Both substances have been studied extensively, and there is a wealth of information available on the dependence, withdrawal, and tolerance experienced when smoking. Nicotine is also considered addictive because a large percentage of individuals to start smoking tobacco develop an addiction.
Is nicotine more addictive than heroin?
While nicotine does not cause the same euphoric sense as other drugs, like nicotine, it is still highly addictive. Studies in recent years have found that nicotine can be as addictive as heroin.
Nicotine Addiction Treatment
There are a variety of treatments available for nicotine addiction and dependence. It is best to start by consulting your doctor on your options for treatment. They can help recommend the best and safest path for you.
There are several nicotine replacement therapies available, behavioral treatments, and cessation medications. Healthcare workers can also set up interventions to help a person stop smoking, including counseling, text messaging support, and telephone quit-lines.
Nicotine is a highly addictive substance and can produce some pleasurable effects, including improved mood, reduced irritability, enhanced concentration, and a sense of wellbeing. It is considered as addictive as illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin. However, the dangers to health cause many people to attempt to stop smoking each year.
Continued use of nicotine products cause long-term changes in the body and brain. Over time, the body adjusts to having nicotine, and when someone stops smoking withdrawals can occur. The chemical balance of the brain is disrupted, causing both physical and psychological symptoms to occur.
Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are very uncomfortable and can last for days or weeks. Symptoms of withdrawal can pose a challenge for someone who is trying to stop smoking. Fortunately, nicotine withdrawals are not considered dangerous to a person’s health like withdrawals from alcohol or other drugs.
Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
When a person smokes a cigarette, nicotine enters their body in a variety of ways. The drug is absorbed through the nose, mouth, and lungs, entering the bloodstream. Nicotine can impact a person’s heart and blood vessels, hormones and metabolism, as well as their brain. Similarly, nicotine withdrawal can produce a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms.
Common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include:
- Increase in appetite
- Cravings for nicotine
Nicotine withdrawal can also impact a person’s emotions and mental health. Common side effects of nicotine withdrawal also include anxiety, depression, irritability, and mental fog.
Nicotine Withdrawal & Headaches
Headaches are common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Removing nicotine from the body can cause an increase in blood flow as well as an increase in oxygen to the brain. Nicotine withdrawal headaches can be treated the same way you would treat a regular headache. A person can take over the counter pain medication, including ibuprofen or Tylenol, drink plenty of water, and rest in a quiet place.
Nicotine Withdrawal & Depression
Changes in mood can extend far past the physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. People suffering from nicotine withdrawal may experience depression as their body adjusts to the lack of nicotine. For some, smoking may have seemed like a temporary fix for symptoms of depression, but there are healthier ways to cope. Increasing physical activity, socializing more, adding structure and routine to the day, and rewarding yourself can all help cope with nicotine withdrawal depression.
Nicotine Withdrawal & Anxiety
Anxiety is another possible mood change associated with nicotine withdrawal. For some, nicotine may have dulled existing symptoms or issues related to anxiety. Once nicotine is removed from the body, anxiety can seem to skyrocket. The symptom tends to peak after a few days without nicotine, but anxiety can last for weeks. Nicotine withdrawal anxiety can be treated similar to other mood disorders or depression, including exercise and a proper diet, self-care, and mental health care.
Nicotine Withdrawal & Blood Pressure
Nicotine causes the body to release adrenaline by stimulating the central nervous system. Those who smoke are at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure. Quitting smoking can help return a person’s blood pressure to normal levels. However, if high blood pressure is a concern, it is best to consult a physician to properly monitor the situation during withdrawals.
Physical Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal
Nicotine withdrawal is tough because it produces several uncomfortable symptoms in the body. Physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal can make it difficult for a person to stay committed to quitting nicotine usage. However, the physical symptoms of withdrawal subside over time.
Physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include:
- Issues with digestion
- Abdominal cramps
- Increased appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Frequently waking up at night
- Weight gain
- Persistent cough
- Flu-like symptoms
Stages of Nicotine Withdrawal
Nicotine withdrawal occurs in a few stages, but the exact process can differ by individual. Symptoms and severity of withdrawal can depend on how long a person smoked, how much they smoked, and any additional health issues.
The first stage of nicotine withdrawal occurs within 72 hours of the last cigarette. Nicotine is fully out of the body at this point, and withdrawal symptoms become obvious. Within a few days of quitting, symptoms tend to peak. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms may last a few weeks or a few months.
The chemistry of the brain does not return to normal until at least three months after someone quits smoking. Symptoms like irritability, fatigue, and low energy may last for months as the brain and body readjust.
Side Effects of Nicotine Withdrawal
The side effects of nicotine withdrawal are mainly confined to the symptoms listed above. Some people may experience insomnia, dry throat, nasal drip, difficulty concentrating, or tightness in the chest.
While uncomfortable, the side effects of nicotine withdrawal are not considered dangerous. Most of the symptoms of withdrawal can be treated with regular measures, including drinking plenty of water, resting frequently, increasing activity levels, proper diet, and relaxation techniques.
Signs of Nicotine Withdrawal
Some of the most common signs of nicotine withdrawal include irritability and nicotine cravings. Once nicotine leaves the body, the body craves more. These cravings can impact a person’s mood for several weeks. Stomach problems, including constipation, gas, and stomach pain, are also common signs of nicotine withdrawal because the intestinal movement in the body briefly decreases. These symptoms can last for a week or two.
Nicotine Withdrawal Timeline
Nicotine withdrawal can begin within 30 minutes of a person’s last cigarette. Within 30 minutes to four hours, nicotine’s effects wear off and a person may start to crave another cigarette. By the 10-hour mark, the cravings may be more intense and a person may experience restlessness, sadness, or hopelessness.
Irritability can begin within 24 hours of the last cigarette, and a person’s appetite is likely to increase. Within two days, headaches are common because nicotine is leaving the body. By the third day, all nicotine is gone from the body and anxiety may increase.
For some, symptoms of nicotine withdrawal can peak within three days to one week. Between two and four weeks, a person may have lower energy. Mental fog will begin to clear and appetite may start to return to normal. Coughing and mood changes may also improve during this time.
If symptoms persists after five weeks, a person must employ mental toughness to continue. Symptoms are likely mental and emotional, including previous smoking triggers.
Effects of Nicotine Withdrawal
The effects of nicotine withdrawal are not deadly, but they are uncomfortable. Between nicotine cravings, mood changes, and increased anxiety, it can be difficult to stay on track after making the decision to quit smoking. However, if a person continues without smoking, the effects of nicotine withdrawal will eventually wear off.
Help with Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
You can seek medical help to cope with nicotine withdrawal symptoms. A doctor may be able to recommend the best path for quitting, including nicotine replacement and smoking cessation drugs. There are also support groups and mental health resources to help with nicotine withdrawal and quitting smoking.
Before you begin experiencing nicotine withdrawal symptoms, it is important to remove smoking reminders. Throughout nicotine withdrawal, plan to stay busy. Make plans to socialize, exercise, and practice hobbies. Avoid situations that put you at a higher risk of smoking, practice self-care, and celebrate your victories along the way.
FAQs about Nicotine Addiction & Withdrawal
Nicotine withdrawal is not a pleasant experience, but it should not stop someone from quitting smoking. Below are some quick answers to frequently asked questions about nicotine withdrawal.
Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal tend to peak within two to three days. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms can last between one and three months in total.
Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are the physical, mental, and emotional responses of the body to a sudden lack of nicotine.
Severe nicotine withdrawal symptoms can also be physical, mental, or emotional. Anxiety and depression are common side effects related to withdrawal. Also, headaches, digestive issues, and nicotine cravings may be more intense for some people.
After a few days of nicotine withdrawal, symptoms may start to lessen. However, the brain’s chemistry does not return to normal for at least three weeks.
Common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depression, insomnia, abdominal cramps, weight gain, constipation, gas, sweating, and flu-like symptoms.
Physical withdrawal symptoms peak within two to three days, but they may last for a week or more. Emotional and mental withdrawal symptoms can last for months.
Nicotine withdrawal is uncomfortable, and it is often compared to flu-like symptoms. However, nicotine withdrawal symptoms are not considered dangerous or deadly.
Supporting your mental and physical health can help with nicotine withdrawal. Proper diet, exercise, and hydration can combat many of the symptoms associated with withdrawal from nicotine.
If you need help dealing with nicotine withdrawal, your doctor can walk you through your available options. You can also find support groups and mental health professionals that specifically focus on addiction.