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Coping With Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

Giving up nicotine can be a brutal experience that can include everything from physical symptoms, such as headache and nausea, to mood issues, including irritability, anxiety and depression.

Yet, it is still possible to get through nicotine withdrawal symptoms with a good plan and specific tools, according to a smoking cessation expert, who offered some suggestions for coping with nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

“Nicotine is highly, highly addictive,” said Emma Brett, a staff scientist at University of Chicago Medicine and a group lead in the Courage to Quit program. “Nicotine affects the brain, blood vessels, metabolism. There are effects all throughout the body.”

Most commonly, withdrawal symptoms happen in the first week after quitting, peaking at about day three or four, Brett said. Some may experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms for weeks. Some may have few symptoms at all.

1. Using nicotine replacement aids

a pack of cigarettes

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Nicotine replacement products can be helpful to get someone through those initial days, weeks or months.

Brett suggested staying on the products until having a high confidence you won’t relapse.

These includes a nicotine patch, gum and lozenges available over-the-counter, plus a nasal spray and inhaler available by prescription.

2. Urges and cravings

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Certain routines can trigger smoking urges. Try to avoid or plan for them in these early quitting stages.

The NCI suggests keeping your mouth busy chewing on carrots, pickles, apples, celery, sugarless gum or hard candy.

3. Irritability

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Know that it’s normal to feel grouchy when quitting smoking, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Feeling jumpy or restless is common, too.

Walk around when you feel this way, the CDC suggests. Cut back on caffeinated drinks because caffeine lasts longer in the body when someone cuts nicotine.

4. Weight gain

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Gaining weight is a common reason for stopping efforts to quit, said John Dani, chair of the department of neuroscience at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.

He advised exercising instead of eating when battling cravings or nervous energy.

Typically, the weight gain is minimal, about five to 10 pounds, Brett said, and that often returns to baseline a few months after quitting.

5. Anxiety or depression

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You may be more likely to have mood changes when you quit smoking if you have a history of anxiety or depression, the CDC notes.

Be physically active to help lift mood, structure the day to stay busy, be sure you’re connecting with other people and reward yourself with something you enjoy, the CDC suggests.

6. Source and more information

smoking history

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