Nicotine alters the balance of chemicals in your brain. It mainly affects chemicals called dopamine and noradrenaline. These changes happen very quickly. When you inhale the nicotine, it immediately rushes to your brain where it takes effect to produce feelings of pleasure. This is why many smokers enjoy the nicotine rush and become dependent on it.
The more you smoke, the more your brain becomes used to the nicotine. This means that you have to smoke more to get the same result.
Your body becomes dependent on the regular hits of nicotine and its effects – and this is addiction. When quitting, the absence of nicotine is what causes the withdrawal symptoms. The more addicted to nicotine a person is the more withdrawal symptoms may occur.
The good news is most of these symptoms will ease within the first week or two of giving up and should go away after four weeks.
Below is a list of possible withdrawal symptoms. Remember – not everyone will get all of these:
- More coughing and bringing up of phlegm or mucus
Millions of tiny hairs called cilia, designed to keep the air passages clean, start to work again to clear away the dirt caused by tobacco smoke.
- Light-headed or dizzy feelings
Your blood supply is improved as level of poisonous carbon monoxide in the blood falls and oxygen supply to brain increases.
- Tingling sensations
Better circulation in hands and feet is an immediate health benefit.
- Feeling extra hungry
Nicotine acts as an appetite suppressant (please see ‘Tips to Help You Quit’).
- Tearfulness, anxiety, irritability and loss of concentration
All of these are associated with the body getting used to being without Nicotine. Smokers may be breaking a long-established habit, which requires significant adjustment, and so may go through a “grieving process”, but this will pass in time.
- Sleep changes
Feeling extra tired, sleepy or unable to sleep is very common, as are vivid dreams – this is linked to changes in metabolism and lack of nicotine.
- Sore tongue and mouth ulcers
The chemical and bacterial content of the mouth is changing and immunity is lower during early days of quitting.
- Bowel changes – constipation or diarrhoea
Tobacco has a laxative effect.
- Craving – an intense desire both mentally and physically to smoke
Lasts typically up to five minutes before easing. But this becomes less frequent and overwhelming during the first four weeks (please see “Tips to Help You Quit”).
Things to Keep in Mind
- They are normal reactions and will not last
- Some of them are signs of recovery and the first signs of health improvements
- These withdrawal symptoms are applicable to any form of tobacco, such as roll-ups, cigars and chewing tobacco (please see “Other Forms of Tobacco”)
- During this period of discomfort, you will be tempted to have a cigarette. Although this will ease the withdrawal in the short-term, it will only prolong the withdrawal period overall. The best way is complete abstinence from smoking. (please see “Tips to Help you Quit”)