What to Expect When You Quit Smoking
What will happen when I quit smoking?
When you smoke, you inhale nicotine into your lungs. The nicotine is then absorbed into your bloodstream and goes into your brain and other parts of your body. Your body gets used to having nicotine in its system and it chemically adjusts. Once your body adjusts to having nicotine present, it will react when you stop smoking. This reaction is called nicotine withdrawal.
As soon as you stop smoking, your body will begin to repair itself. While your body is working to get rid of the nicotine, you may experience some or all of the effects of nicotine withdrawal. They include:
- changes in mood
- changes in sleeping patterns
- changes in eating habits
- craving for nicotine
Other symptoms may include:
- itchy hands or feet
- constipation, gas or stomach pains
- coughing or dry mouth
- dizziness or headaches
Each smoker is different and not everyone experiences the same number and intensity of withdrawal symptoms. Some people don’t have any withdrawal symptoms. Others have symptoms that can range from mildly uncomfortable to very uncomfortable.
How long do withdrawal symptoms last?
Withdrawal symptoms are temporary. They peak within one to two days after you quit and usually only last about a week (although they can last up to four weeks). If you feel you have a strong physical addiction to nicotine, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may recommend that you use a nicotine replacement therapy or a smoking cessation pill to help ease your withdrawal symptoms.
The good news is that withdrawal symptoms are actually signs that your body is on its way to recovering from the effects of nicotine. As soon as you quit, good things start to happen to your body.
LOWER BLOOD PRESSURE. Twenty minutes after quitting, your blood pressure drops to your pre-cigarette level.
MORE OXYGEN. Eight hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide in your blood drops, and the oxygen level in your blood increases to a normal level.
HEALTHIER HEART. Within 24 hours after quitting, your chance of having a heart attack decreases.
WARMER FEET AND HANDS. Within two weeks to three months of quitting, your blood circulation improves. In the weeks and months to come, your body will continue to recover. In the meantime, here are some tips to help you cope with nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
CHANGES IN MOOD. You may experience irritability, nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, or feeling down or depressed. When you reduce your nicotine level by quitting smoking, you may experience mood changes while your brain adjusts to being nicotine-free.
To cope with these feelings:
- Create a support system. Tell friends and family you are quitting and you need their support. You may also decide to join a group program or seek counselling for people who want to stop smoking.
- If you’re a smoker living in Alberta, call Alberta Health Services toll-free Smokers’ Helpline at 1-866-332-2322. The Smokers Help Line provides confidential and free information, referrals, telephone counselling and support to smokers who want to quit. The Smokers Help Line is available 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
- If you are looking for support to help you quit, you can find it online at www.albertaquits.ca. This free service offers information, professional support and access to a friendly community of people who want to help each other quit smoking.
- If you are looking for group support, QuitCore is a free support program that will teach you how to quit smoking and connect you with others who are also quitting. Based on the Tom Baker Cancer Centre (TBCC) program, which helped people quit smoking for over twenty-five years. More than 7,000 Albertans have quit smoking through the QuitCore/TBCC model. This program is available in English for adults eighteen years and older, teaches quitting support techniques such as self-hypnosis, behaviour modification, relaxation, strategies to help with physical and mental recovery and includes visits from past program graduates. For more information about QuitCore, including if QuitCore is available in your area please visit www.quitcore.ca or call 1-866-710-QUIT .
- Exercise. Physical activity can help release calming chemicals in your brain.
- Take long, warm baths to help yourself relax.
- Talk to your doctor if you have feelings of depression that are severe or don’t go away.
CHANGES IN SLEEPING PATTERNS. You may experience sleepiness or problems sleeping. The nicotine in tobacco is a drug that affects the way a smoker’s brain works. As the nicotine in your body lessens, you may feel extra tired or have trouble sleeping for a few days until your brain returns to its normal patterns.
- Can’t sleep? Avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee, cola and cocoa before bedtime. Take a warm bath or shower to relax.
- Feeling tired or sleepy? Try taking short naps and getting extra sleep at night. Drink plenty of water. Exercise can help too.
CHANGES IN EATING HABITS. You may experience changes in eating habits after quitting smoking. Are you concerned about gaining weight? There are many reasons why some people gain weight after quitting. After you quit, food will smell and taste better. You may also find yourself using food as a substitute for cigarettes. Remember, not all people gain weight after quitting. Some people even lose weight.
People who do gain weight usually only gain five to seven pounds. If you are worried about gaining weight, try following these tips:
- Eat healthy, low-calorie foods, and stick to low-calorie snacks.
- Get plenty of exercise.
- Ask your doctor about nicotine replacement therapies. They can sometimes be helpful for weight management because they can help you to avoid replacing nicotine with food substitutes.
- Remind yourself that gaining a few pounds is healthier than smoking.
CRAVINGS FOR NICOTINE. Because nicotine is addictive, when you stop smoking, you will experience cravings for nicotine. Here are some tips to help you fight the urge to smoke:
- Keep busy to distract yourself from cravings.
- Use oral substitutes like sugarless gum and candy or sunflower seeds.
- Wait for the urge to pass. It may help you to know that nicotine cravings usually only last for a few minutes.
- Try using yoga. Practice slow, deep breathing. Listen to relaxation tapes, or use other relaxation exercises to help you with stress.
- If your cravings are intense, you may want to see your doctor about using nicotine replacement therapies.
ITCHY HANDS OR FEET. You may experience this as your circulation begins to improve. The itchiness seldom lasts for more than two or three days.
- Try massage. Practice slow, deep breathing.
CONSTIPATION OR DIARRHEA. Your digestive system may be upset for a few days after quitting.
- If you have constipation, drink plenty of water and fruit juices; eat bran, fruit and whole grain cereals.
- If you have problems with diarrhea, avoid caffeine.
COUGHING OR DRY MOUTH. Your body is getting rid of mucus that has collected in your lungs.
- Sip cold water.
- Try sugarless chewing gum or cough drops.
DIZZINESS OR HEADACHES. You may experience periods of slight dizziness as your body gets more oxygen. If you feel dizzy or have headaches, here are some tips.
- Practice breathing exercises: take a slow, deep breath; hold it for a count of five, then count to seven as you slowly breathe out.
- Exercise lightly.
- Drink plenty of water and juice to keep your body hydrated.
Want to know more?
For more information contact the Smokers’ Helpline at 1-866-332-2322 (Alberta only).