Withdrawal Symptoms during Stoptober...and beyond


October 12, 2020

So, you’re off to a strong Stoptober after mentally preparing for quitting along with millions of smokers nationwide, but feeling the effects of nearly a week without any cigarettes. Withdrawal from nicotine,which is the body’s reaction to quitting smoking - can be hard. Read on for some assurance that this is quite common, and some tips on how to get on top of them.

Think about it this way: an average smoker gets about 200 hits of nicotine a day – that’s ten puffs per cigarette,times 20 cigarettes a day gives you about 200 hits of nicotine a day.  So now that you have many more nicotine receptors, your brain has been trained to constantly wait for the next nicotine hit, or release of dopamine - the reward chemical that is activated when nicotine attaches to receptors in the brain - hence why it is addictive, and why it can be difficult when we try to quit.

Most who’ve smoked can tell you of the nicotine withdrawal symptoms that arise when you try to quit, or even if you’ve not smoked for a few hours. Nicotine is a powerful substance that affects the body chemically, it’s the dopamine release that we eventually get addicted to. When we quit, the cigarettes are we’re not activating that chemical release, of course, it will feel that something is not quite right!

Although nicotine leaves the body 72 hours after you quit smoking, the withdrawal symptoms can last up to 3 months(tending to be strongest the first week) - think irritability, mood swings,inability to concentrate – it can feel like a struggle, however, each time you resist the urge to smoke you build resilience to the habit. but to really understand your withdrawal symptoms, it’s worth identifying the type of symptoms they are:


·             Physiological – The body’s need for nicotine (physical urges to smoke) ​

·             Psychological – The mind’s desire, oral craving (thoughts about smoking, needingthe hand to mouth action​)

·             Habitual – Learned behaviour associated with smoking​ (cigarette with coffee, cigarette post meals etc.)


They can also be a combination of 2 or all 3.

Below are some of the most common nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Do any of these feel familiar to you from this past week?

·         Anxiety​

·         Irritability, frustration or anger

·         Difficulty concentrating​

·         Depressed mood​

·         Sleep disturbance

·        Restlessness​

·        Insomnia​

·        Impaired performance​

·        Increased appetite or weight gain​

·        Cravings


Usually there are some tried and tested methods which can help overcome the intensity of these withdrawal symptoms, of course everybody is different and will deal differently with their own symptoms, but here are some strategies to get you thinking about how to prepare and approach withdrawal over the next few weeks.


Medications | Pharmacotherapy:

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)is a 12-week course of administering nicotine into the body in a steady and controlled manner can help with withdrawal symptoms through the day. Products include patches, mouth spray and gums. Here is a handy overview of what you need to know: www.verywellmind.com/nicotine-replacement-therapy

Champix* is a 12-week pill form medication which works with the brain as a nicotine blocker, reducing both the desire to smoke, and the enjoyment of smoking – without the nicotine you’re pretty much left with the harsh chemical taste and unpleasant smell – all things that are always present but we don’t pay attention to as we’re busy enjoying the nicotine.  Small amounts of dopamine released (the pleasure / reward chemical released by nicotine) which relieves cravings and greatly reduces withdrawal symptoms. You can learn more here: verywellmind.com/how-champix-works


Short-term Strategies:

The Four D’s

Delay – Urges come & go;cravings last 5-10 min and decrease in length & intensity as time goes on​ - try being with the urges for a little longer!

Distract – Get busy and divert the energy elsewhere (hobbies, chores, books) ​- think how many cigarettes are smoked out of boredom!

Deep Breathing – Release tension /anxiety that we hold in our body and mind. This can also help to interrupt thoughts of needing or wanting to smoke

Drink water – Satisfy oral fixation and hand to mouth motion, helps flush chemicals out. A sensory shock can help to take cravings away


The 3 R’s ​

Remind – Review your reasons to quit​. Why not re-establish them by writing them down?

Refuse – Thoughts and rationalizations about smoking are just that! Be watchful over ideas such as“just the one won’t hurt” - remember there is no such thing as “just the one”

Rehearse – Review your plan for handling difficult situations, preparation is key and can help us meet challenges


Long-term Strategies:

·            Alter Routines: Do something new or out of your ordinary pattern. Create a new routine to replace the OLD – this can help to re-wire the brain to not think a cigarette is missing, rather occupy it with something unknown or new.​

·            Review reasons for quitting: Reasons maintain motivation (health, finance, kids etc.),a key ingredient in quitting​

·            Adopt a nonsmoker self-image: Smoking is no longer an option, look at examples from the past. What did it feel like when you were a non-smoker? What would it feel like to be a non-smoker again?

Preparing for withdrawal symptoms is important – being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Give yourself credit for having the courage to address the habit and making a change, but also understand that it won’t always be plain sailing, after all,this is a major lifestyle change you are going through. The journey from being a smoker to a non-smoker, just know that you won’t be on your own.

How is your Stoptober going so far?

If you want to learn more about the above strategies, information on pharmacotherapy and talk with one of the 28 Days Quit Coaches, get in touch here: hello@28days.org.uk | www.28days.org.uk


*there are side-affects and contraindications to consider, and the medication is not suitable for all, for example during pregnancy.Check with your Quit Coach or GP to understand if champix is suitable for you.