How Long Does Nicotine Withdrawal Last

Sheena R. Harris
Quitting smoking

Feeling the effects of nicotine withdrawal is enough to make you want to light a cigarette, but if you know the facts about how long you need to tough it out, you might be able to make it past the most difficult part of quitting smoking. The duration of nicotine withdrawal symptoms varies from person to person.

Duration of Physical Effects

The physical effects of nicotine withdrawal last the least amount of time. These physical symptoms can range from headaches and a rapid heart rate to stomach pain and dizziness. Most symptoms of nicotine withdrawal peak around the third to fifth day and slowly taper off after that, according to The Quit Smoking Community. Some people feel physical symptoms from nicotine cessation for much longer than others, depending on a few factors. The following are factors that contribute to how long your physical symptoms will last:

Detoxification

Detoxification of nicotine depends on how long it takes for your body to rid itself of the nicotine and return to a nicotine-free state. You can help this process by drinking a lot of fluids, which will help flush your body out.

Years as a Smoker

If you've smoked for years rather than months, it might take longer for you to feel better physically because your body has grown so accustomed to functioning with nicotine.

Usual Amount Smoked

If you only smoked a couple of cigarettes a day, you will probably not experience physical symptoms as long as someone who was a heavy smoker.

Duration of Psychological Symptoms

The psychological symptoms of nicotine withdrawal can be far more difficult for some people to deal with than others. Not only that, these symptoms can last much longer than the physical ones. Someone can feel the psychological effects from quitting smoking as soon as two to three hours after having the last cigarette, and these symptoms can last quite a while. However, as time goes by, you should see a general tapering off of some of the psychological symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

Quitting smoking can leave you with feelings of depression and anxiety, insomnia, agitation and irritability and restlessness. Some of these symptoms will take longer to subside than others. The good news is, once you have steered clear of nicotine for three months, your brain chemistry should return to normal, so most psychological symptoms of withdrawal should go away.

The following are factors that contribute to the duration of psychological effects of nicotine withdrawal:

  • Number of years using nicotine - If you smoked for years, it has become a huge part of your life. It's like losing a close friend, and that can be depressing. You may yearn to have this part of your life back, and that longing can last for a long time.
  • How well you know your triggers - Knowing what triggers you to begin smoking can help you avoid the temptation to light up again. For example, if you associate smoking with your daily cup of coffee, try avoiding it temporarily.
  • How effectively you incorporate coping mechanisms - If you lack effective coping mechanisms, you may have a difficult time when stressful situations arise because you don't have smoking to fall back on. The American Cancer Society offers a list of several coping strategies, including things like breathing exercises and substitution methods to help relieve your habit of smoking.
  • If you have support surrounding you to help - Having the support of family and friends can help you through those times when you want to give up and begin smoking again. Someone without support may not have the willpower to turn away a cigarette if offered or refrain from buying a pack at the local gas station. One study performed on social networks and smoking behavior concluded that if a spouse quits smoking, their partner's chances of continuing to smoke is decreased by 67 percent.
  • Your ability to keep busy - Keeping your mind and body busy can help you through the cravings and thought processes associated with the psychological effects of smoking. You may consider substituting one habit (your smoking) with another that is much more productive and healthy, such as quick bouts of cardio exercise.

Smoker's Recovery

You may hear some smokers talk about how they haven't had a cigarette for years, but they still have the craving for one once in a while. This feeling is typical of any person with an addiction, whether it's drinking or drugs. Addiction recovery is an ongoing process, and you are never completely free from the addiction. Some people relapse and have a cigarette, but what's important is that they get back on track. Just keep in mind, each day without a cigarette is a victory and another day free from nicotine.

How Long Does Nicotine Withdrawal Last