Smokers who are interested in quitting can look forward to a number of multiple proven benefits. Prospective quitters, however, should expect to experience symptoms akin to withdrawal from any other addictive substance. Nicotine withdrawal is generally more likely to occur in individuals who have smoked for an extended period of time or smoked a greater number of cigarettes each day.
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After habitual tobacco consumption, smokers’ bodies get used to obtaining particular amounts of nicotine on a regular basis. Upon quitting, smokers usually experience an extreme craving for cigarettes. This craving is for the addictive nicotine that is contained within the tobacco. These nicotine cravings usually begin within an hour or two of quitting, peaking for several days and possibly lasting up to six months, with urges occurring farther apart as the days pass. Nicotine supplements, such as nicotine patches or gum, can be used to decrease the person's nicotine craving.
Irritability and Frustration
The sudden loss of nicotine in the system prompts temporary changes in the smoker’s brain chemistry. Quitters may become short-tempered and less tolerant of others’ behavior. These increased episodes of irritability, anger and frustration may begin on the first day of quitting and usually peaks during the first couple of weeks. These symptoms gradually disappear within a month.
People who have recently quit smoking usually experience an overall increase in anxiety. This effect usually occurs a week after quitting and slowly wanes within a month. This heightened sensitivity to stress is also attributed to the nervous system’s response as it is adapting to the reduced nicotine levels.
Smokers who quit may experience some form of mild depression which is expected to disappear in less than a month. A tendency for more severe feelings of sadness, however, may occur in smokers with a prior history of depression. A February 1997 study published by “American Journal of Psychiatry” recommends that, for people affected by severe, chronic depression, continued care be extended beyond the two-week period associated with normal nicotine withdrawal syndrome.
Nicotine acts as an appetite suppressant. Therefore, smokers who quit experience an increase in appetite. Weight gain may occur within the first few months of quitting. This side effect, however, can be completely off-set by healthy living. Physical activity and a proper diet can help prevent weight gain.
- American Cancer Society: When Smokers Quit -- What are the Benefits Over Time?
- National Cancer Institute: Quitting Tobacco: Challenges, Strategies, and Benefits
- Addiction: Behavioral Intervention to Promote Smoking Cessation and Prevent Weight Gain -- A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- American Journal of Psychiatry: Major Depression Following Smoking Cessation
- MedlinePlus: Nicotine Addiction and Withdrawal