Nicotine Withdrawal and Detox

Modified: 22nd Jul 2019

Last updated on July 22nd, 2019 at 02:48 pm

Quitting smoking has dozens of health benefits, many of which are experienced quickly.

Just 20 minutes after a person quits smoking, their blood pressure and pulse return to normal. Then, after eight hours, 93% of the nicotine in your body is gone.

Yet, it can be very hard for people to quit, even when they understand the benefits and want to be nicotine free.

Read on to learn all about nicotine withdrawal and detox and what nicotine withdrawal symptoms you can expect. 

What Causes Nicotine Withdrawal?

Nicotine use leads to feelings of pleasure and causes your body to have a higher level of dopamine (the feel-good chemical in your brain). 

Nicotine is an addictive substance. When people habitually take in nicotine, their body and brain will develop a dependence on it. 

When a person reduces the amount of nicotine in their body, he or she will begin to go through nicotine withdrawal.

Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

Nicotine is an addictive substance. There are many nicotine withdrawal symptoms that a person may experience during nicotine detox.

Cravings

The most likely is an intense craving for nicotine. Because your body has developed a dependence on nicotine, you will crave it when the supply is no longer there.

During nicotine withdrawal, many people experience cravings for carbs and sugary snacks. That’s because nicotine triggers your muscles to release glucose. Without nicotine, your blood sugar drops, and you will feel the need to eat more often than you did before.

Also, snacking is one way people can try to satisfy their nicotine craving. So reaching for chocolate or toast with peanut butter may also have to do with trying to overcome the nicotine craving from an emotional standpoint.  

Some people even gain weight in the period right after they stop using nicotine. 

Changes in Sleep

People who are quitting smoking often have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Insomnia is a symptom of nicotine withdrawal. Sleep is regulated by dopamine which is why sleep issues are related to nicotine withdrawal.

Mood

Mood swings, outbursts, and irritability are also common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. 

These emotional nicotine withdrawal symptoms could be linked to the lack of sleep you are experiencing as well as the nicotine withdrawal itself.

A Cough or Flu-Like Symptoms

It seems ironic that after a person quits smoking, he or she will develop a persistent cough. 

Even though your lungs are getting better, the change will be marked by a cough. Human lungs contain little pockets that become flat when people smoke.

Once a person quits smoking, these pockets will return to their normal shape as the individual coughs out the cigarette deposits that are in the lungs.

One way to help your lungs expel the toxic buildup is to drink a lot of water.

On top of a cough, you may have flu-like symptoms such as body aches, sore throat, sinusitis, and feeling run down. This is your body’s way of figuring out what has changed.

No longer having a constant supply of nicotine causes your body to go on high alert. These flu-like symptoms are an immune response triggered by the lack of nicotine. 

Constipation

Many people who stop smoking experience constipation.

This is due partly to the carbs and other snacks that you may be eating much more frequently than before. And it is also because, without the nicotine, your digestive tract slows down its work. 

Duration of Nicotine Withdrawal

Smoking withdrawal symptoms will be different for each person. It depends on how long a person has been smoking for and also how much nicotine they habitually ingested each day.

Generally, nicotine withdrawal peaks and gradually lessens over the next three or four weeks.

Nicotine Withdrawal Timeline

Nicotine withdrawal can begin as soon as four hours after the last dose of nicotine. The physical side effects typically only last for a few days. 

Trouble sleeping, headaches, flu-like symptoms, and constipation all last around a week. 

The good news is that just two hours after someone stops smoking, half of the nicotine in the body is already gone. Over the next few days, the nicotine levels in a person’s body keep declining until there is no nicotine left. 

For most people, it takes 10 days for all traces of nicotine to leave their body. 

The symptoms of withdrawal gradually decrease over a three or four week period. After that, you will be officially over your smoking withdrawal symptoms.

Detoxing From Nicotine on Your Own

Though it is unpleasant, there are no health risks from detoxing off nicotine. 

If you smoke less than 10 cigarettes a day, you may want to quit smoking cold turkey. This means you set a day where you quit all at once.

You can help yourself get through the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal by chewing sugar-free gum, drinking lots of water, and having a strong support system.

Medical Detox for Nicotine

Nicotine detox under the supervision of a medical professional is called medical detox.

During this process, the smoker is in a drug-free surrounding such as a detox clinic or addiction recovery center. 

How Medical Detox Works and What to Expect

There are various nicotine detox programs across the country. Some are run by local organizations while others are part of a hospital’s outpatient programs.

Medical detox includes counseling to identify a person’s triggers. That way, patients can develop the tools they need to resist giving in to cravings in those scenarios.

Doctors may prescribe medicine to make the detox stage more bearable. 

Medications Available for Nicotine Detox

One of the most common treatments for nicotine detox is nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).

Here, a smoker will quit smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco and instead will use products that have small amounts of nicotine in them. 

Inhalers and nasal sprays are available with a doctor’s prescription. Over-the-counter options include nicotine gum and skin patches. 

NRT products allow you to slowly lower the amount of nicotine in your body. This way, you don’t quit cold turkey but rather, you wean yourself off nicotine. 

Your doctor may also prescribe non-nicotine medication that helps reduce cravings. For example, varenicline and Bupropion help reduce drug cravings.

Final Thoughts on Nicotine Withdrawal and Detox

We hope this guide on nicotine withdrawal and detox has been useful to you.

Remember, though the process can be difficult, living a life free of addiction is worth the effort it takes to give up your addiction to nicotine.

If you are ready to start your recovery today, contact us.

Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.