Quitting smoking: 8 withdrawal symptoms and solutions

homme qui casse une cigarette

We all know at least one person who's tried and failed to quit smoking, and that might even include you. Learn more about symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and some helpful tips to help you manage them and kick the habit for good. 

Giving up smoking for a whole pack of benefits 

Quitting smoking improves life expectancy and, among other things, lung capacity, and skin and teeth appearance… it’s long list of health benefits worth the look:

  • After 24 hours nicotine free, the risk of a heart attack begins to decrease.
  • After one year, the risk of heart disease (affecting the arteries that feed the heart) drops by half. 
  • After 10 years, the risk of dying from lung, mouth, throat and kidney cancer (amongst others) is greatly reduced.

The financial benefit of ditching nicotine is also worth mentioning. Try out one of the online calculators for a glimpse at how much you could save if you quit smoking. Your healthier lifestyle could also lower your life insurance and home insurance premiums for even more savings.

1. Dizziness

Quitting smoking increases the amount of oxygen in your blood, which can trigger dizziness or headaches for a few days. 

Possible solutions:

  • Take slow deep breaths (yawning helps too).
  • Stretch and avoid sudden movements. For instance, when you get up in the morning, try sitting for a few seconds before standing.

2. Nicotine cravings

The temptation to light one up will surely haunt you the first few weeks. Cravings only last about 5 to 10 minutes and are more frequent the first 15 days. Afterwards, they will fade over time.

There are several reasons for these cravings, including stress and plain force of habit. Lack of nicotine also means a drop in your body’s production of dopamine, a hormone associated with well-being.

Possible solutions:

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about personalised counselling and nicotine replacement pharmacotherapy (gum, patches, lozenges, inhalers or sprays) or other options. This should help ease your withdrawal symptoms to maximize your chances of success. There are some precautions and contraindications however to consider.
  • Keep your mouth busy with sugarless gum, a straw or a toothpick. 
  • Keep your hands busy with a stress ball.
  • Get moving, exercise will help your body release endorphins.
  • Do something that takes your mind off things: read, listen to music, take up a craft or new hobby, talk to someone who can encourage you...
  • Break from any smoking-related habits. For instance, take your break somewhere different and or at a new time. Your brain needs a little reprogramming and to be free of any old triggers. 

3. Fatigue and insomnia

Nicotine is a stimulant, so you’ll probably see a drop in your energy level without it. Fatigue is usually experienced during the first month after quitting and is perfectly normal. 

You may also see changes in your sleep cycle and feel restless at night. Remember to tell yourself it’s a temporary thing, but here are a few solutions to help in the meantime. 

Possible solutions:

  • Reduce your intake of coffee, tea and other stimulating drinks.
  • Try to avoid high-fat foods, which can interfere with your sleep.
  • Adopt a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Stay away from screens for at least an hour before going to bed.

4. Appetite 

Quitting smoking improves taste and smell. Although these changes are great, they do stimulate appetite. You may start eating more without realizing it.

Possible solutions:

  • Stay in tune with your body to distinguish genuine hunger from snacking, or keep your mouth busy with that sugarless gum or toothpick mentioned earlier.  
  • Drink plenty of water between meals.
  • In the morning, eat a hearty breakfast. Don’t skip meals to avoid hunger and overeating at the next one.

5. Sugar cravings

You’ll suddenly have a sweet tooth, or at least more than before. One of the reasons is that sugar stimulates your brain like cigarettes did. So, sweets and desserts often become a substitute or crutch.

Possible solutions:

  • When you feel hungry, opt for healthy snacks: raw vegetables, nuts, cheese, edamame (soybeans), high-fibre toast, and so on.
  • Choose low-calorie desserts: fruit, plain sorbets or yogurt.

6. Cough

The bronchial tubes are partially paralyzed by the chemical components of smoke. After quitting, coughing is a sign that your respiratory system is eliminating these toxins: the vibrating cilia in your bronchial tubes will begin to filter out dust and germs more effectively. Think of it as an overdue spring clean.

Possible solutions:

  • Let nature do its thing. The cough should stop after three to four weeks.
  • Go for a walk in the woods or your local park to get some fresh air.
  • Drink lots of water and use cough drops for relief when needed.

7. Digestive problems

Your digestive system may also be affected by nicotine, and when you quit you may experience episodes of constipation or diarrhea for instance.

Possible solutions:

  • Be physically active on a regular basis.
  • Increase your intake of water and fibre-rich foods: fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

8. Irritability

Going nicotine free also comes with mental, emotional, and behavioural side effects. The stress caused by this deprivation provokes a tide of emotions: anger, sadness, impatience. You may feel out of sorts, but this is normal and temporary.

Possible solutions:

  • Use proven strategies to tame your stress: practice yoga or meditation, go for walks, listen to music, swim—in short, find an activity that makes you feel good.
  • Try to get more sleep to feel better and improve your mood.
  • Add some humour to your life. Laughter is the best medicine!
Homme tenant sa tête devant un ordinateur portable

Plan ahead to put the odds in your favour

You've decided to take the plunge and break your habit? Well done! Here are a few tips to help you plan: 

  • Identify your weaknesses
    When are you most likely to want to smoke? After meals? When hanging out with friends? Identify the risks and think about ways to distract yourself.
  • List your reasons quitting
    List the top reasons why you want to quit and look at your list whenever you need encouragement.
  • Have an action plan 
    Set a date! 
    Tell your family and friends about your plans to quit and ask for their support. 
    You can also ask for help from a resource that specializes in smoking cessation (e.g., I QUIT NOW).
  • Stay positive
    Finally, to succeed, be confident. Fail once or twice? Who hasn’t! Rethink your strategy and give it another try instead of beating yourself.

You can do it!