A person puts a nicotine patch on their arm to help them quit smoking and manage their withdrawal symptoms

What Is Nicotine Withdrawal?

Nicotine in tobacco is a highly addictive substance, and people who quit may experience symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, especially if they’ve used tobacco products for a long period of time.1 Nicotine withdrawal is a collection of physical, mental and emotional symptoms that are felt as nicotine leaves your body.2 When you use tobacco products, your brain and body become used to the nicotine thanks to a chemical reaction in your brain that produces excess dopamine when you use tobacco.2 When you don’t smoke or cut back on your usage, the lack of nicotine in your body causes less dopamine to be released in your brain, triggering a range of withdrawal symptoms that may be difficult to manage and can make you want to reach for a tobacco product again.2

What Are Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms?

There are a range of potential symptoms; each person may experience nicotine withdrawal differently. The severity of your symptoms may depend on how frequently you used nicotine products and how much nicotine was in the products you used. No two people will experience these symptoms in the same way, but there are some physical, emotional and mental nicotine withdrawal symptoms that may present themselves and understanding what’s happening to your body may help you to manage them. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms will typically begin a few hours after your last dose of nicotine, whether it was a cigarette, a vape pen or smokeless tobacco.2 They may be most intense a few days afterward and may last for up to several weeks.2 Thankfully, any symptoms that you experience should get better day by day, especially after their peak on the third day after quitting. Thankfully, the health benefits of quitting smoking should outweigh any negative symptoms.

Physical Symptoms

Physical nicotine withdrawal symptoms may present themselves because the balance of chemical messengers in your brain has been thrown off. Addiction frequently manifests itself as a physical craving, and this may occur long after your body is no longer addicted to nicotine.1 Some of these physical symptoms may include:1,2,3

  • Urges to smoke
  • Headaches
  • Increased Appetite
  • Weight Gain
  • Constipation, gas or diarrhea
  • Cough, dry mouth, sore throat and nasal drip
  • Chest tightness
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling restless

Emotional and Mental Symptoms

In addition to physical withdrawal symptoms, the lack of nicotine in your system may manifest in a range of emotional and mental symptoms. You may have known others who have quit smoking and were incredibly grouchy for about two weeks; this symptom was not unique to those individuals! In fact, irritability is an extremely common emotional symptom of nicotine withdrawal.3 Some others include:1,2,3

  • Feeling tired, restless or bored
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling irritated

Nicotine Withdrawal Timeline

Most symptoms will peak during the second or third day after a quit but understanding a timeline for nicotine withdrawal can help you understand what’s happening in your body and help you stay firm in your desire to quit.4 If you’ve smoked your last cigarette, here’s what you can expect to experience within:4

  • 4 hours. Your body is craving another cigarette and you’re probably feeling antsy. The nicotine in your body has dropped by 90%.
  • 10 hours. Your blood sugar levels are lower than they usually are at this point, and you may be feeling unusually hungry. Your circulation is returning to normal, and it may cause your hands and feet to feel tingly.
  • 24 hours. The first full day after you stop smoking may be rough. You will likely have the urge to reach for a tobacco product as soon as you wake up. Your body will be craving nicotine, but it’s important to stay strong in your resolve to quit. Irritability and anxiety are common.
  • 48 hours. As your brain starts to become accustomed to the lack of nicotine, you may even experience symptoms like depression, headaches and constant cravings.
  • 72 hours. After about a week, cravings should have subsided, and each individual craving shouldn’t last much longer than 5 minutes. Some heavy smokers will experience a sore throat with heavy coughing; this is because your body is attempting to get rid of the tar accrued during your time as a smoker. You may also feel some tightness in your chest, which can be attributed to the coughing.
  • 7-21 days. You may still experience some cravings in the three weeks following your quit, but they should be manageable by this point. You’ll also notice that your appetite has increased but that you seem to have less energy than you used to. This is due to your metabolism normalizing and your blood pressure dropping.

While quitting tobacco can seem like a daunting task, NRT products can help you combat some of the withdrawal symptoms you might otherwise experience by going cold turkey. Whether you reach for nicotine gum, nicotine lozenges or a nicotine patch, Nicorette can help you kick the habit for good.

  1. Handling Nicotine Withdrawal and Triggers When You Decide to Quit Tobacco. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/withdrawal-fact-sheet#what-are-some-of-the-nicotine-withdrawal-symptoms-associated-with-quitting-tobacco. Accessed 10/3/22.
  2. Nicotine Withdrawal. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21587-nicotine-withdrawal. Accessed 10/3/22.
  3. 7 Common Withdrawal Symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/quit-smoking/7-common-withdrawal-symptoms/index.html. Accessed 10/3/22.
  4. Quit Smoking Timeline. Tobacco Free Life. https://tobaccofreelife.org/quit-smoking/quit-smoking-timeline/. Accessed 10/4/22.