Learn the causes, coping strategies and symptoms of nicotine withdrawal to successfully manage nicotine cravings.
Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, while short-lived and non-lethal, are uncomfortable, psychologically and physically challenging, and surprisingly intense. Nicotine cravings are just as “real” as cravings from opiates like cocaine and heroin and are just as hard for some users to resist. If you’re trying to quit smoking, understanding what symptoms to expect, what causes them, and how to cope with them can go a long way in helping you quit smoking.
Causes of Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms and Cravings
Ruth Franks who offers hypnotherapy in London for smoking cessation says nicotine withdrawal symptoms and cravings are caused by changes made to the brain during addiction. As someone becomes addicted to nicotine, their body falsely interprets the drug as vital and life-sustaining (like food and water), and when the user tries to quit, the brain panics, thinking that its body is in mortal danger (like starving to death). In addition, the smoker’s brain creates associations that map places, people, feelings and activities with smoking (or chewing) tobacco. It is these associations that the brain taps into when someone tries to quit to trigger nicotine cravings and encourage the user to smoke. Therefore, users will have intense nicotine cravings doing activities that they used to associate with smoking. The brain can associate just about any place, person or activity with smoking so It’s important for smokers to recognize that just about any familiar scenario can trigger intense nicotine cravings.
Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Withdrawal and Nicotine Cravings
Nicotine cravings and general symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are generally thought to start within 2-3 hours after the last use of tobacco and peak 2-3 days later, but some studies have shown that nicotine withdrawal and nicotine cravings can set in much quicker, appearing after just 30 minutes. In any event, it is within the first two to three days that most users experience the most intense symptoms, with severity of symptoms and cravings depending upon how long or how many cigarettes someone smoked each day.
In general, because nicotine addiction is both physical and psychological, nicotine withdrawal symptoms are both physical and psychological as well, with the strongest nicotine cravings being triggered at times, places and situations the user associates with smoking. For instance, if a smoker normally has a cup of coffee and a cigarette every morning, then just having a morning coffee is going to trigger a nicotine craving. When experiencing symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, it’s important for users to recognize that these cravings may be triggered frequently but they’re also relatively quick to pass, and the more cravings a user successfully manages, the easier the process becomes.
Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include:
Craving for nicotine and/or smoking
Inability to concentrate
Drowsiness and/or trouble sleeping
Intense dreams and nightmares
Increased appetite (with possible weight gain)
Anxiety, tension and restlessness
Frustration, irritability and impatience
Nicotine Replacement Therapy as a Coping Strategy for Nicotine Withdrawal and Cravings
Nicotine replacement therapy involves using active and passive introduction of low doses of nicotine to supplement levels in the blood stream and manage nicotine cravings. If used properly, these supplements can be quite effective and offer higher rates of success than quitting “cold turkey.”
Active types of nicotine supplements include gum, inhalers, nasal spray and electronic cigarettes that replace one nicotine-producing activity with another. It’s important to note that, in general, these supplements don’t break nicotine addiction, they just substitute one activity for another (usually smokeless) one.
Passive types of nicotine supplements include skin patches and medicines that introduce nicotine and/or craving inhibitors without any activity on the user’s part. The most widely-known brand name smoking cessation medications include Wellbutrin, Zyban and Chantix.
Properly used, smoking cessation aids can be powerful tools for quitting smoking because they lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms and give users a nicotine “buffer” that can help them survive the first critical 2-3 days of quitting. The key to using these smoking cessation tools effectively is to use them without replacing one addiction for another.
Coping with the Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal and Nicotine Cravings
If you’re trying to quit smoking, learning how to cope with nicotine withdrawal symptoms and cravings can really increase your chances of success. Consider the following coping strategies:
Develop new habits. Disassociate activities that you used to do while smoking and you’ll lessen the frequency and severity of your cravings, so break down associations by developing new habits. For instance, if you normally smoke first thing in the morning, substituting taking a walk or going to the gym instead to develop a new morning ritual.
Build a support network. Having a support network of friends, family, and other quitters to help bolster your commitment and confidence.
Recognize that nicotine cravings are short lived. Understand what triggers cravings and how quickly they can pass. Your cravings may be intense and frequent, but each one only lasts a few seconds. Fight your addiction one craving at a time.
Consider using nicotine replacement therapy. Passive nicotine replacement has been shown to be quite useful in helping long-term users quit by resisting nicotine cravings. If you’ve tried quitting “cold turkey” and have been unsuccessful, consider trying nicotine replacement or alternative therapy.
Reward and acknowledge successes. Quitting smoking is a hard process and a huge accomplishment, worthy of celebration, so celebrate your milestones and stop smoking anniversary dates!
Resisting Nicotine Cravings and Coping with Nicotine Withdrawal
In the end, your ability to quit smoking comes down to your ability to resist nicotine cravings and to find effective coping strategies for dealing with the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Whether you choose to go “cold turkey” or to use nicotine replacement therapy to help you through the first critical 2-3 days, recognize that your cravings will eventually subside, and with each craving you successfully resist, you’ll be one step closer to quitting forever.