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Smoking & tobacco

Quitting smoking

Withdrawal symptoms and how to cope

Withdrawal is your body's response to being without the drug nicotine. Everyone who quits smoking should expect some withdrawal symptoms as they quit smoking.

Each person will have their own set of withdrawal symptoms. For some people, withdrawal wonít feel so bad. For others, it will feel horrible. Itís different for each person. It depends on many things, including how much you smoke. In general, people notice symptoms within a few hours of quitting. Their symptoms may be worse in the evening.

Withdrawals symptoms donít last forever. They usually become less noticeable after the first 4-5 days.



Withdrawal symptoms and how to cope

Withdrawal sign or symptom Why youíre feeling it How long it lasts What you can do
Youíre irritable (in a bad mood) Your body craves nicotine 2- 4 weeks Take a walk or do some other kind of exercise. Try to relax: take a hot bath, listen to soft music, stretch, go for a massage.
You feel tired and you have low energy Nicotine is a stimulant - it keeps your body and brain alert. Your body is now learning how to stay alert without nicotine. 2 - 4 weeks Take a nap if you're tired. Don't push yourself, and donít take on any extra work.
You have trouble sleeping Nicotine has affected your brain waves and sleep patterns. Your brain is adjusting to new sleep patterns. 1 week Avoid caffeine (coffee, cola).
Youíve got a
  • dry throat
  • cough,
    and/or
  • youíre coughing up phlegm.
  • You have post-nasal drip
    - mucus that drips from the back of your nose into your throat.
When you first quit, you might notice a lot of coughing and phlegm. This is a good sign. Your lungs are trying to clear out the tar and other dirt trapped inside your airways. Help your lungs by allowing yourself to cough and spit this stuff out. A few days Drink lots of water to thin out the mucus and make it easier to bring up. Cough it up or swallow it.
You feel dizzy Your body is getting more oxygen now that youíve quit smoking. This is a good thing! But your body needs a little time to adjust. 1 or 2 days When you get up from sitting or lying down, get up slowly.
You have trouble concentrating Your brain is used to getting a buzz (stimulation) from nicotine. Now itís learning to stay alert without nicotine. A few weeks If you can, work a little less. Take lots of breaks.
Your chest is tight You may have sore muscles from coughing, or tense muscles from nicotine cravings. A few weeks Take some deep, slow breaths.
You have gas stomach pain constipation While youíre in withdrawal, your bowels may move less often than before. This constipation wonít last forever Ė itís just a part of withdrawal. Give your body a chance to adjust, and your bowel movements will be regular again.   Drink lots of water and eat high-fibre foods like fruits and vegetables.
You feel hungry Your brain is confusing a nicotine craving with a craving for food (hunger).

Your mouth isnít busy smoking, so you have the urge to eat to keep it busy.
2-4 weeks Eat healthy, balanced meals and snacks. Try crunchy, low calorie snacks like raw veggies, pretzels, popcorn, and fruit.

Drink lots of water.

You may also want to chew gum.
You crave another cigarette Your brain is begging for another hit of nicotine, a highly addictive drug. For most people, cravings are strongest in the first few days after quitting. Some people have cravings occasionally for months or years. Wait it out. Your strong craving will probably last just a few minutes. Try another activity - have a drink of water, take a walk, call a friend or use a nicotine replacement product (for example, NRT gum).

Also see the 4_d solution for handling cravings, below
Coping with cravings: the 4-D Solution

When you have the urge to smoke try the 4-D Solution:

1. Drink water

Drink lots of water. This flushes the nicotine and other chemicals out of your system faster. It can help to keep your mouth busy.

2. Deep breaths

Take a deep breath break instead of a smoke break. Take a few deep breaths. Hold the last one. Breathe out slowly.

3. Delay

As a smoker you were not always in control. You smoked when your body wanted nicotine. By delaying or holding off, you are calling the shots. Your craving for a cigarette will probably pass in a few minutes. Just wait and you can get through this.

4. Do something different

When a craving hits, it helps to change what you're doing. Step outside. Call a friend. Read a book. Do something different. Some people find it helpful to do something with their hands when a craving strikes like picking up their knitting project or squeezing a stress ball.