Main symptoms of nicotine withdrawal syndrome

It is clear that the nicotine withdrawal syndrome causes uncomfortable symptoms, but it should never be forgotten that these are temporary. The benefit of quitting smoking lasts for the rest of your life.

Last update: September 13, 2021

Nicotine withdrawal syndrome causes a number of uncomfortable symptoms for ex-smokers. The manifestations vary in intensity from one person to another. Nevertheless, in general, there is a feeling of physical discomfort, nervousness and anxiety.

It should be taken into account that nicotine is a very addictive drug. The consumption of this substance causes dopamine to be released in the brain, a hormone that increases the feeling of well-being. Therefore, the body reacts negatively to the absence of the drug.

Nevertheless, nicotine withdrawal syndrome does not pose any health risk. Its symptoms affect up to 85% of people who decide to quit smoking, but everything can resolve on its own in four to 12 weeks.

Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal syndrome

The intensity of nicotine withdrawal symptoms varies from person to person.

The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal syndrome are very varied, but, without a doubt, the most characteristic is the urge to smoke That can arise in the presence of a stimulus, such as watching another person smoke, or without apparent cause.

The good news is that the desire to smoke dissipates in a period of 15 to 20 minutes, so it's just a matter of handling that episode and then everything will be fine. The initial two or three minutes are the hardest. This symptom is known as craving and usually lasts six to eight weeks.

Other symptoms of nicotine withdrawal syndrome include the following.

Physical symptoms

The main physical symptoms in nicotine withdrawal syndrome are the following:

  • Increased appetite
  • Cough.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Headache.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Runny nose
  • Flu.
  • Sore throat and tongue or gums.
  • Feeling of tightness in the chest.
  • Weight gain.
  • Slower heart rate or bradycardia.
  • Constipation.
  • Hypotension

Mental symptoms

In addition to the physical symptoms, nicotine withdrawal syndrome also causes intense mental symptoms such as the following:

  • Anxiety and restlessness.
  • Irritability.
  • Difficult to focus.
  • Insomnia and trouble sleeping well.
  • Anger and frustration.
  • Depression.
  • Discouragement.
  • Bad mood.

Why happens?

As already mentioned, nicotine is a substance that causes a strong addiction. When nicotine is consumed there is a transient release of endorphins. This activates the brain's gratification circuits and causes a fleeting feeling of euphoria.

Simultaneously, dopamine levels increase, causing a feeling of well-being. This lasts less when using nicotine than when taking other drugs. All this together reinforces the behavior of consuming nicotine.



Cigarette smoke enters the lungs and then enters the bloodstream. In a period of about 10 seconds it reaches the brain and the pleasant sensation occurs, which then quickly dissipates. The shortness of this cycle induces a higher consumption of nicotine.

Nicotine withdrawal syndrome is the result of chemical dependency towards that drug. The smoker becomes accustomed to the presence of this chemical in the body and experiences discomfort when not ingesting it. Therefore, annoying symptoms occur.

How long do the symptoms last?

Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal syndrome last between four and 12 weeks. Rarely less or longer than this. The usual thing is that if a person stops smoking, they eliminate the nicotine that is in their body in the next 24 hours.

Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal syndrome appear in the first 12 to 24 hours after quitting tobacco. The craving episodes, as noted above, are very intense for about three minutes. Then, they disappear for about 10 minutes and reappear again until completing cycles of 20 minutes.

The most difficult stage is the first two to three weeks of abstinence. However, the urge to smoke keeps coming back for several months and sometimes years. The other symptoms gradually fade away, and if you learn to manage the urge to smoke, you can give up tobacco for good.

Tips for Coping With Withdrawal Syndrome

Stopping adding is possible with willpower and determination.

There are a lot of smokers who want to give up tobacco, but give it up based on the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Because, it is very important to learn to manage these symptoms so that the goal can be achieved. The following are some key tips to achieve this.

Identify the challengers

There are some factors that act as triggers for tobacco use. For each person they are different, but some of them are very common among smokers. The most common are the following:

  • The beginning of the day.
  • Feeling stress.
  • Drink coffee or tea.
  • Consume alcoholic beverages.
  • Feeling satisfied after eating.
  • Worrying or being bored.
  • Being in the company of other smokers.

Knowing the factors or elements that trigger the urge to smoke is very valuable to be cautious against these. They cannot always be circumvented, but being aware of how they operate in nicotine withdrawal helps to get around them better.

Manage craving episodes

This is one of the key elements in overcoming tobacco addiction. The indicated thing, in the first place, is to remember that these episodes are temporary. They arise and intensify, but then disappear and are less and less common.

During these episodes you can choose one of the following measures:

  • Chewing something helps to dispel the urge to smoke. It is best to opt for carrots, apples, sugar-free gum or something similar. This does not contribute to weight gain.
  • Breathing exercises. Sometimes it is enough to just inhale and exhale deeply. In any case, if possible, relaxation techniques or yoga are excellent for dispelling the craving.
  • Replacement Products. The doctor may indicate the use of some products to replace nicotine, depending on each case.
  • Medicines. The use of certain drugs, under medical supervision, can help to manage these episodes of desire to smoke.

Manage uncomfortable emotions

The most common is that when you quit smoking, emotions of anger, frustration and irritability appear. This is more intense during the first week and it is maintained, almost always, for about three or four more weeks.

The best way to dispel those emotions is to exercise regularly. Just go for a walk, hopefully at a brisk pace. Meditation and relaxation techniques are also helpful. Likewise, the consumption of coffee, tea or other stimulating beverages should be avoided.



Work anxiety and depression

It is advisable to make the decision to quit smoking at a time when two or three weeks can go without stressful stimuli. Much better if it is possible to spend time alone and in a quiet environment.

Physical activity, relaxation techniques and the avoidance of stimulating drinks are highly recommended. Also take warm baths and do pleasant activities. Nicotine replacements are very convenient.

It is advisable to make simple and pleasant plans like going to a concert, a play or something like that. Talking with friends about positive topics is also highly recommended. If the emotions are very strong or uncontrolled, it is best to consult with the doctor.

Control diet and weight

It is common for you to gain weight when you quit smoking. The indicated thing is to maintain a well balanced diet, with many fruits and vegetables. Ex-smokers often look for sweet foods; however, it is best to avoid them.

It is also advisable to drink water frequently. In fact, when you feel like smoking it is highly advisable to drink a glass of water. It is important to emphasize the benefits of regular exercise, which, in this case, also helps with weight control.

Nicotine withdrawal syndrome is temporary

Quitting smoking is an excellent decision that is always worth working towards. Although nicotine withdrawal syndrome brings a number of discomforts, these they are not compared to the benefits of quitting tobacco.

The ex-smoker may think that the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal syndrome are temporary, but the benefits of quitting smoking do last long. Every day without smoking is an achievement and heralds that easier days to cope will come.