With so many smokers considering the potential to quit and push towards a healthier lifestyle, the idea of withdrawals and struggles is sure to cross the mind.
You can’t simply walk away from cigarettes.
Addiction and cravings play a major role in a smokers ability to quit, and while the physical and emotional struggle sounds terrible, understanding what to expect can prepare you for success.
This is what you can expect when you quit smoking.
Why Cigarettes Are Addictive
As appealing as it may sound to quit cold turkey and never reaching for another cigarette, it often doesn’t play out so simple.
Nicotine, a potent chemical found in tobacco products, is a highly addictive substance and ultimately affects your body both physically and mentally. This leads to a wide range of symptoms as smokers begin to quit, from mood swings to physical illness causing smokers to feel they “need” another cigarette to live their day to day.
The first time you lit a cigarette, you likely felt a bit nauseous, coughed a lot, had a tightness in your chest, and even became a bit dizzy. While each of these in any other situation would throw up a red flag, you grabbed another cigarette.
Over time, your body becomes accustomed to these feelings, and overlooks them. While coughing or shortness of breath remain sure signs that smoking isn’t doing your body any good, you keep smoking because you’ve formed a dependency on nicotine.
The primary reason you can’t avoid lighting another cigarette is due to chemical dependency, or the addiction to a chemical substance. In the case of tobacco, this chemical is nicotine.
Nicotine attaches to the receptors in the brain, causing them to fire and release large amounts of dopamine.
Dopamine is naturally occurring in the body and is released when you do things that make you happy. Common reasons for healthy dopamine release in your everyday life include:
- Listening to your favorite music
- Exercising or doing yoga
- Getting a good night's rest
- Doing good on a task
- Eating a nutritious (or just delicious) meal
- Achieving a major goal
- Hugging your loved ones
So nicotine releasing dopamine should be a good thing?
Unlike the natural release of dopamine, nicotine attaches to these receptors and continues to fire them causing your body to think it needs higher than normal levels of dopamine all the time.
To make matters worse, chemicals such as carbon monoxide, lead, or arsenic are released as the tobacco burns. As you inhale, these chemicals go straight into your lungs. While you’re addicted to nicotine, cigarettes are damaging your body in more ways than one.
What Are Withdrawals?
When you attempt to quit smoking, your body will continue to crave these higher than normal dopamine levels and begin creating cravings.
At first, withdrawals could start as a simple want for a cigarette, but over time these simple feelings begin turning into mental demand, causing signs of irritation or mood swings.
If the cravings aren’t met, your body could begin showing physical symptoms as well. While your body physically being affected may become overwhelming, these effects are what push many smokers back towards negative smoking habits.
It’s important to remember that these feelings are normal, and they will pass over time.
Within the first 24 hours, you could expect a large spike in your appetite. Nicotine binds to the dopamine and serotonin receptors in your brain, which play a role in hunger. While many smokers will have a cigarette with breakfast to settle that hunger, the lack of smoking will cause hunger.
Some smokers also eat to fill the gap of a cigarette. While this does keep the hands and mouth busy, many people gain weight during this time which ultimately leads to the false idea that smoking keeps you slim.
During this time, it’s important to keep healthier snacks around you. Eating large amounts of junk food could upset your stomach or cause you to feel even worse. Having healthier alternatives like carrots and ranch at the ready will help you battle the hunger.
This feeling could last up to 2 weeks.
Smoke inhalation or breathing in smoke during fires remains one of the leading injuries during fires. Your body simply is not designed to breathe in these toxic particles.
This could lead to damage in your mouth, throat, and lungs.
Cigarettes contain a slight numbing effect that may cause you to overlook the damage or flem buildup. Within the first couple days you can expect coughing -- both coughing up phlegm and coughing fits.
Smoking also reduces the movement of cilia, the tiny hairs in the lungs. Once you quit smoking, these hairs become more active, which could cause slight irritation.
In most cases, your lungs are damaged and need time to clean and repair themselves. You may find relief with a humidor, vapor rub, or other soothing breathables.
For many smokers, this goes away within a couple weeks. For severe or long term smokers this coughing could last longer.
Irritability or Anger
When you decide to quit smoking, it’s important to talk with those around you and let them know. Your loved ones, friends, and especially the people you work with. This is because of irritation or being short fused.
Ever wanted to tell off that co-worker or your boss for something minor that happened, then didn’t understand your hostility later that day?
When you quit smoking, these mood swings are normal. If the people around you don’t understand that you're quitting or that this can be a common side effect, they may be less receptive if you have an attitude.
During this time, you’ll want to find a way to calm down and relax. Maybe go for a short walk or get away from a situation when you get upset. This can last up to a couple weeks.
Depression or Loss of Interests
With mood swings, you may begin feeling down or depressed. You’ll now be receiving far less dopamine on demand since you’ve cut nicotine out of your life.
It’s important to do something for you during this time. You’re trying to accomplish natural dopamine release, so do the things that make you the happiest on a normal day. Exercise and yoga are also known to relax the body and release dopamine, so consider going for a walk or even just laying down in the cool grass to take a breather.
After two days as the nicotine wears off and your body realizes you’re not adding more, you likely will get mild headaches and slight dizziness.
Headaches can be irritating, with added issues such as dehydration or poor diet causing further irritation. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids.
The Good Side Effects
You’ve decided to quit smoking most likely for your health, so you can expect a lot of good to come from the process.
20 minutes after you quit smoking, you can expect your heart rate and blood pressure to lower closer to normal ranges. Smoking increases heart rate and blood pressure.
When smoking, tobacco releases carbon monoxide. Within 8 to 12 hours, you can expect this toxin to begin leaving your body.
Nerve endings are damaged as you smoke, reducing your sensitivity to feel. In 48 hours, these nerve endings begin to repair.
Between 2 weeks and 3 months, depending how often you smoked, your risk of heart attack and heart disease in general begins to drop as circulation increases, blood pressure drops, and oxygen levels found within the lungs increase.
1 year after quitting, your risk for heart disease is cut by nearly half.
5 years after quitting your risk of stroke will begin returning to normal.
10 years after quitting, your risk of lung cancer will return to normal.
15 years after quitting, your risk of heart disease returns to normal.
Even once you’ve quit smoking, you may feel like you want another cigarette. This feeling can return from time to time, especially during stressful situations.
If these cravings become too much, it’s important to have a nicotine-free alternative on hand, such as hemp cigarettes.
Hemp smokes look and feel like a normal cigarette, with absolutely no nicotine. This means no addiction, and reduced health risks.
It’s important that you don’t light another tobacco cigarette. The “it’s just one” mindset often turns to relapse.
The first couple weeks after quitting are going to be rough. You’ve spent years adding toxic chemicals into your body, and although they may be bad for you, your body became accustomed to the toxins.
Adding healthy habits where smoking once stood not only helps you quit smoking, but creates a healthier lifestyle over all. Imagine if every time you lit a cigarette, you instead snacked on some fresh berries or veggies, or went for a walk.
Having a way to relieve overwhelming cravings both while quitting, and afterwards can keep you away from tobacco. A pack of 100% hemp cigarettes from Oklahoma Smokes ensures you have a way to relieve these cravings, with no nicotine.
Quittin’s gonna be hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Be one of the few that actually does. Good luck!