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How long does nicotine withdrawal last?

For anyone who has previously tried to give up smoking or really wants to, nicotine cravings can seem like a terrifying and irrepressible monster.

Nicotine withdrawal affects different people in different ways but can be unpleasant and very challenging – however, quitting IS possible. 

Withdrawal symptoms usually last between one week and one month – a comparably very short time when you consider the huge benefits of not smoking every day for the rest of your life. 

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the UK, but more people than ever are managing to quit. In Great Britain 61% of people who had ever smoked reporting they had now quit in an Office for National Statistics report, published in 2019.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms

Smoking withdrawal symptoms are firstly rooted in the strong desire to smoke and a difficulty to ignore it.

Side effects of stopping smoking can include feeling irritable, frustrated, tired or even angry. This can affect your ability to sleep and concentrate.

Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to ease the craving and withdrawal symptoms.

Smoking cessation services are now provided via the NHS and there are apps that can help too. Distraction techniques can be powerful such as talking, getting engrossed in a different activity, having a glass of water or going for a walk. 

There is also effective medication to help, such as Champix, Zyban or nicotine replacement therapy. Research also suggests that e-cigarettes can help people to give up nicotine cigarettes.

How long does it take to give up smoking?

It is commonly believed that the worst of withdrawal symptoms pass after the first 28 days. However, the timeline for giving up smoking is a personal thing that varies from one individual to another. 

Medicines to reduce cravings are usually prescribed in a course of up to 12 weeks for Champix (varenicline). A course of Zyban (Bupropion), which is a drug originally used for depression but found to assist smokers to quit, is usually seven to nine weeks, with treatment beginning before you stop smoking.  

Nicotine replacement therapy, which comes in many forms, including skin patches, inhalators, tablets, nasal sprays or chewing gum, usually lasts eight to 12 weeks at a full dose before gradual reduction.

Hand refusing a cigarette offer on grey background

Nicotine withdrawal timeline

The amazing thing about giving up smoking is that the benefits begin to happen almost immediately, according to NHS Smokefree.

Your pulse rate is affected by smoking and within 20 minutes of not having a cigarette, it will return to normal.

After 8 hours of not smoking the oxygen levels in your blood return to normal.

Two full days after giving up smoking your lungs start to clear – you may notice you get a cough as mucus and smoking debris is rejected. At this stage, there will be no nicotine in your system and your taste and smell will be improved.

Between two weeks and three months of giving up your circulation shows signs of improvement.

A year after quitting your risk of heart disease will be half that of a continuing smoker.

Ten years after giving up your risk of lung cancer will be half that of a smoker.

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Will I gain weight if I give up smoking?

The desire to distract yourself from smoking, along with the improved sense of smell and taste that come with giving up smoking, can lead to weight gain for some people as they give up smoking.

It’s worth taking some steps to try to avoid this in advance of quitting smoking – such as making an effort to have healthy snacks available and minimising the availability of crisps and sweet things. 

It is worth noting that whilst you, of course, want to avoid excessive weight gain, if you put on a little weight you can tackle this when you’re feeling stronger. 

The motto of ‘one day at a time,’ often linked to Alcoholics Anonymous, is a useful one for anyone facing challenges of many types, including during the stages of quitting smoking. Dealing with the challenges and celebrating the achievements of each day individually can make goals more achievable.

The link between smoking and other addictions 

The majority of drug misusers in treatment also smoke tobacco, the Department of Health’s drug misuse and dependence UK guidelines and clinical management document states.

Some will also smoke other drugs that can damage their lungs as well as causing other ill effects, such as crack cocaine, heroin and cannabis.

The guidelines state that it is an unfounded belief that smoking cessation should wait until another drug treatment has been completed. In fact, a combined approach is said to improve outcomes due to the similarities in the support and interventions.

Whilst most drug misusers wish to kick their nicotine habit as well, it’s not surprising that not all will feel ready to or want to attempt to whilst already dealing with the challenging task of moving forward from another addiction. The act of completing treatment or rehab for another addiction or alcohol issue may, however, increase their chances of doing so due to all the lessons learned.

Getting support with quitting nicotine increases the chances of success in the same way as seeking help with other addictive behaviours. There is no need to go it alone and doing so may be setting you up to fail.

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About the author: Martin Preston

Martin is our Founder and Chief Executive. Martin is himself in long term recovery and started Port of Call to help families navigate treatment options. In 2020 Martin will open Delamere Health Ltd, the UK’s first purpose built addiction treatment clinic.

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