Nicotine is a drug that grows in tobacco plants. It can be as addictive as hard drugs such as heroin or cocaine. If you decide to quit smoking and therefore, stop using nicotine you should prepare yourself for the physical and mental withdrawal symptoms that occur after the first few days and weeks of quitting smoking. In this article we will open up the withdrawal symptoms of nicotine and side effects after stopping smoking and provide advice on how the addiction can be replaced with other factors.

What’s on this page?

Why does nicotine cause withdrawal symptoms?

When smoking a cigarette, nicotine is absorbed through the airways into the lungs. From there, it is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream with carbon monoxide and other toxins and thus, it spreads throughout the body. It takes around 3-4 days for nicotine to completely dissolve from the organism. As a result, physical withdrawal symptoms last this long and many think that they are at their worst during this time. However, mental addiction can, in some cases, last for a lifetime.1

What are the withdrawal symptoms?

The most common nicotine withdrawal symptoms are:

  • dizziness
  • depression
  • frustration
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • problems in concentration
  • boredom
  • exhaustion
  • headache
  • increased appetite
  • weight gain
  • constipation
  • shortness of breath
  • increased heart rate
  • cough
  • dry mouth
  • sore throat

Duration and stages of the symptoms

Stop smoking symptoms are divided into stages. The symptoms begin after four hours of smoking the last cigarette. During this stage, the symptoms worsen until 2 days have passed since smoking the last cigarette. All in all, the withdrawal symptoms are at their worse during the first 3-4 days. After this, the symptoms weaken little by little.

However, some symptoms last for some weeks after quitting smoking but they are not as strong as in the beginning. Different people experience the symptoms differently and thus, the process of quitting smoking varies between people. For some, it’s easier than for others.

The Canadian Lung Association of Saskatchewan has researched the symptoms and the duration for each symptom.2

Symptom Duration Popularity
Increased appetite Over 10 weeks 70%
Depression Under 4 weeks 60%
Nervousness Under 4 weeks 60%
Irritability Under 4 weeks 50%
Desire to smoke Over 2 weeks 70%
Concentration problems Under 2 weeks 60%
Insomnia Under a week 25%
Dizziness Under 2 days 10%

Mental withdrawal symptoms

Stopping smoking causes two types of withdrawal symptoms, physical and mental. After a few days of quitting, the worst physical symptoms are often very unpleasant, but they are not hazardous for health. However, they can be a strong incentive to start smoking again in order to get rid of the physical discomfort. NRT alternatives such as nicotine patches or gums can prove beneficial.

Much more difficult to overcome are the mental symptoms because active smokers have developed daily routines where smoking is a key. Cigarettes with coffee, cigarette break at the workplace, post-meal cigarette, cigarette after sex, nerve-rejuvenating cigarette, cigarette with beer, holiday cigarette or cigarette just to honour things that went smoothly. The list goes on. Every nicotine addict perceive cigarettes as an important part of the day. Identifying and permanently changing these established habits and approaches is a challenge that nicotine patches won’t fix.

The first stage of mental withdrawal

In the first few days after smoking cessation, depression may occur. Nicotine causes a feeling of mental well-being that disguises bad feelings. In order to achieve this good feeling again, you have to smoke another cigarette. With time, the body gets used to nicotine which means that the body needs more and more nicotine in order to gain the same feeling. This is a vicious cycle of addiction.

When the nicotine levels fall, people feel irritable and restless that can further develop into temporary depression. Therefore, smoking may seem to some as they had lost a good friend. While this might sound ridiculous, it may help to deal with your own sense of depression by mourning.

Treatment options

In addition to NRT, withdrawals can be alleviated or in some cases eliminated by actively exercising. This can also provide help with maintaining weight because weight gain is typical among people who have stopped smoking. A doctor can, in some cases, prescribe stop smoking medication such as Champix. Support can also be obtained from the internet or booking a meeting with a counsellor. Additionally, during the first days of cessation, it may be good to spend time with non-smoking family members and friends because they can help the smoker to concentrate on something else and provide mental support. A new, non-smoking, lifestyle usually takes about 8 to 12 weeks. After that, mental withdrawal symptoms usually alleviate and you have learned new routines. Only at this point can be said that nicotine has been completely let go.

Especially during the first few weeks, the symptoms can be quite strong, so shaking off the addiction can be quite a challenge. Therefore, it is worth remembering that symptoms are, in fact, a sign of physical recovery and the body’s ability to get rid of the addiction. For those tough moments, you can write a note about the causes of your smoking cessation and the good sides of the process. When the desire to smoke gets harder, you can take a look at your note. It is also worth remembering that although nicotine withdrawal symptoms may be quite uncomfortable, they are not nearly as uncomfortable as cancer treatments. Read more about smoking and cancer here.


  1. Symptoms – WebMD
  2. Symptoms – Lung Association