Mental Breakdown: Common Side Effects From Quitting Nicotine

When smoking, you are adding a variety of chemicals into your body, particularly nicotine. Over time, your body becomes accustomed to these added chemicals, and starts to depend on them being there as a part of your day to day. 

Once you take the steps to quit smoking, you strip your body of its source of nicotine, which often leads to cravings and withdrawals. With everything from seeing a pack of cigarettes to just smelling someone smoking becoming triggers, it’s no wonder quitting is hard. 

Ultimately, your body is craving nicotine, and will begin messing with your head in attempts to make you want to smoke. 

For some people, it’s a bit of added stress or irritation, while others may feel full mood swings and mental breakdowns. Understanding these side effects can help you understand what you or your loved one is going through, and how to help. 

Nicotine Addiction 

Nicotine is an addictive chemical found in tobacco products, and the primary reason you feel the need to light up another cigarette. Nicotine releases dopamine into the brain, reducing feelings of stress and even pain, ultimately signalling to your brain that nicotine makes you “feel good.” 

Like all chemical dependencies, your body doesn’t just start out addicted. The first few puffs taken from a cigarette are often too much for a first-time smoker, causing you to develop a headache, or feel nauseous and light headed. 

Over time, constant nicotine use reduces the effects it will have on your body, causing you to have to use more to receive the same feelings. This is known as tolerance. Sure enough, this increased use will again cause you to build more tolerance, and make you feel like you need even more. 

Over time, your body becomes accustomed to the nicotine being in your body, and that becomes the new norm. While you may not think about it, smoking gets incorporated into your day to day life. 

What makes you personally feel the need to smoke a cigarette is called a trigger or cue. For some, it’s sitting down in the morning with a cup of coffee, or when you get in your vehicle to drive to work. Each time you link smoking a cigarette with a regular activity or routine, it becomes a trigger that signals to your brain it’s time for a smoke. 

Quitting Tobacco

Deciding you want to quit is a major step towards a healthier lifestyle, but for some reason, you keep feeling this need for a cigarette. 

You're feeling irritable, upset, angry, sad -- like someone needs to give you a cigarette or you’ll just explode. 

These are a form of withdrawals, and withdrawals are serious. 

Each person that has stepped away from tobacco has felt similar symptoms from nicotine withdrawals -- these can be linked back to the three main parts of tobacco addiction.

Physical Addiction

One of the hardest forms of addiction to work past is the physical addiction, which involves the triggers and events that would normally lead to a cigarette. These change from person to person depending when and how often you smoked, and to appropriately battle these feelings, you need to understand your triggers. 

Common triggers include:

  • Talking on the phone
  • Drinking coffee
  • Before or after eating a meal
  • During work breaks
  • Before, after, or during your daily commute to work
  • After sex
  • Right before bed

These triggers can also be the things you see or smell, such as:

  • Seeing or hearing someone pack cigarettes
  • Smelling a cigarette 
  • Seeing a designated smoking area sign

Since these triggers are associated with your day to day life, you can’t exactly just stop doing them, and instead need to find ways to handle triggered cravings. 

Social Addiction

The social addictions with smoking can become just as large of a draw, focused on your interactions with those around you. 

As a smoker, you tend to surround yourself with other smokers, which often leads to lighting up together. Your time taking a smoke break at work becomes a real bonding moment of standing around talking. 

As you decide to pull away from tobacco and nicotine, these social interactions are going to encourage you to light up. This includes activities such as:

  • Going to a bar or club
  • Taking breaks at work
  • Celebrating something special
  • Seeing someone else, or a group standing around smoking in public

To make matters worse, that group of friends you once shared cigarettes with will most likely offer you a smoke thinking you’ve just run low. 

Chemical Addiction

While triggers may encourage you to light up, chemical addictions have obtained a direct path in your brain telling you to light up. Your body misses the nicotine from smoking, and is now trying to forcefully get you to give it more nicotine again. 

With your body now thinking it has a chemical imbalance, you can expect mood swings, body aches, headaches, and much more. 

Side Effects

When quitting an addictive substance, you can expect to be affected in more ways than one. This changes from person to person, and in most instances can become severe fast. 

Knowing that quitting nicotine will send you on an emotional rollercoaster, it’s important to tell the people around you what’s going on. Your boss or significant other will be more understanding about you giving them a bad attitude if they know you’re in the process of quitting. 


Over time, you have created a norm that you need cigarettes to be able to function in your day to day life, and the idea that you’re removing this huge part of your daily routine is known to cause anxiety.

Anxiety can take effect within three days of quitting, but commonly doesn’t last more than two weeks. 

When dealing with anxiety, it’s important to:

  • Remind yourself that the feeling will soon pass 
  • Set some time aside or find a special place to calm yourself down, especially in the morning and evening
  • Be physically active -- this releases hormones which may help relieve the feeling of anxiety
  • Reduce your caffeine intake, i.e. coffee, tea, and soda
  • Relax by meditating, laying down, taking a hot bath, or reading a good book -- anything that gives you a feeling of ease and relaxation


Minor depression is normal when you quit smoking, since your body is feeling like it’s missing something. 

This feeling usually begins within the first day, often associated with feeling sluggish, and can last up to three weeks. When having feelings of depression, you should try:

  • Make plans and keep yourself busy doing things you enjoy.
  • Focus on what exactly you’re feeling -- depression is often confused with being tired, hungry, or generally upset. This will also help you figure out what exactly has you feeling this way.
  • Write a list of what’s upsetting you, then write down ideas of how you can work through them and what types of activities cheer you up. 
  • Talk with someone about your depression.

It’s alright to feel upset or sad. Depression often refers to a point where these downed emotions begin to have a negative impact on your life. 


While depression and anxiety might affect those around you, feelings of irritation, anger, and frustration are often taken out on those trying to help you quit. 

Before you even reach this state, it’s important to talk with people such as your loved ones, coworkers, and boss and keep them in the loop about your efforts. This feeling of irritability usually starts about a week after quitting, and can last up to four weeks. 

When feeling irritable, try:

  • Remind yourself the nicotine is making you feel this way. It’s temporary. 
  • Politely walk away or separate yourself from the situation. 
  • Go for a long walk and try to be mindful and meditatively aware of your surroundings.

Some people are going to irritate you, and knowing you’ll be short tempered due to nicotine withdrawals may mean this is the right time to ask your boss about even temporarily moving further from that one coworker that always gets on your nerves. 

Keep Moving Forwards 

Although nicotine addiction can lead you on a crazy emotional rollercoaster, it only lasts for a short amount of time. Pushing through each day will get you one step closer to reaching your goals of putting tobacco behind you. 

In the future, you may feel an urge to light up. The mental techniques you learn while quitting nicotine will allow you to step back, assess the situation, and continue a healthier life without tobacco. 

It’s time to step out your last cigarette, and start your journey to a healthier lifestyle. Start by switching to a tobacco-free, nicotine-free smoke with Oklahoma Smokes


10 Ways to Naturally Reduce Anxiety | Healthline

7 Quick Ways to Stop Being Irritable | PT

National Institute of Mental Health