7 Common Withdrawal Symptoms

And What You Can Do About Them

Trying to quit smoking feels different for each person, but almost everyone will have some symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. When you stop, your body and brain have to get used to not having nicotine. This can be uncomfortable, but nicotine withdrawal can’t hurt you – unless you give in and have a cigarette!

Over time, withdrawal symptoms will fade as long as you stay smokefree.

1. Having urges or cravings to smoke

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Almost everyone who smokes regularly has cravings or urges to smoke when they quit. They may be mild or can sometimes feel overwhelming. Figuring out how to deal with cravings is one of the most important things you can do to stay successful.

Ways to manage:  There are LOTS of things you can do to make urges and cravings less of a problem. Quit-smoking medicines can help a lot, and so can other quitting tips. Cravings can be triggered by things that make you think about smoking—like people you smoked with, a place you often smoked, or things you used to do while smoking like having a cup of coffee. Even a thought or a feeling can trigger a craving. But other thoughts can help you get through a craving, like remembering why you are quitting. Remember that you never have to give in to a craving, and that it will always pass.

Tips to Manage Withdrawal
  • Use a quit-smoking medicine.
  • Keep busy and distract yourself.
  • Be active – some physical activity is better than none!
  • Spend time with friends who don’t smoke.
  • See other ways to manage withdrawal.

2. Feeling irritated, grouchy, or upset

It is very common to feel irritated or grouchy when you quit. Even many people who have never smoked know this is part of quitting. Knowing this is normal can be helpful.

Ways to manage:  Remind yourself that you likely feel this way because your body is getting used to being without nicotine. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself why you’re quitting.

3. Feeling jumpy and restless

person stretching and holding foot

Feeling jumpy or restless during the first days or weeks after quitting is normal. Just like your mind gets irritated without nicotine at first, the rest of your body can, too.

Ways to manage: Doing some physical activity can help shake loose your jumpiness. Get up and walk around for a bit if you feel restless. Try cutting back on coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks. When you quit smoking, caffeine lasts longer in your body.

4. Having a hard time concentrating

You may notice that it is harder to concentrate in the first days after you quit—this is very common.

Ways to manage:  Try to cut yourself some slack, especially in the first days after you quit. Try to limit activities that require strong concentration if you can.

5. Having trouble sleeping

man sleeping on pillow

It’s common to have some trouble sleeping when you first quit smoking. This will get better, but if it is bothering you, talk with your healthcare provider to get help. If you become exhausted from poor sleep, this can make it harder to stay quit.

Ways to manage:

  • If you drink coffee, tea, or other caffeinated drinks regularly, don’t drink them in the late afternoon or evening. When you quit smoking, caffeine lasts longer in your body.
  • If you are using the nicotine patch, try taking it off an hour before bedtime. Sometimes the nicotine in the patch can affect your sleep.
  • Try some of the other things that can help you get a good night’s sleep:
    • Don’t watch TV or use phones, computers, or e-books in bed.
    • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
    • Don’t eat a heavy meal or drink alcohol right before bed.
    • Add in some physical activity during the day (but not right before bed).
    • Go to sleep and wake up around the same time each day, even on weekends.

6. Feeling hungrier or gaining weight

It’s normal for your appetite to increase some when you quit. And your body may not burn calories quite as fast. You may also eat more because of the stress of quitting or to have something to do with your hands and mouth. Food may even be more enjoyable because your senses of smell and taste are not being dulled by all that smoke!

Ways to manage: While some people may gain weight after they quit, it’s important for your health to quit sooner than later. Below are a few simple things you can do to help control weight gain after quitting. The bonus is that these things will help you build healthy behaviors for a lifetime of being smokefree!

  • Snack smart. If you eat between meals, find some healthy, low-calorie foods that still give your mouth and hands something to do, like celery, carrots, or sugar-free mints. You can also keep your hands and mouth busy with a toothpick or a straw.
  • Be active. Any physical activity is better than none. Even if you don’t want to join a gym or take up running, simply going for a walk can have real health benefits!
  • When you eat, focus on eating. Eating is often something we do in the background while we watch TV or check our phones. When we eat like this, we eat more. When you quit smoking, make a point of removing distractions when you eat. Also try eating a bit slower and focus on enjoying your food. This can help you notice when you are getting full.

If you are worried about gaining weight, a quit coach can help you with other quitting tips, or you can talk with your healthcare provider for help.

7. Feeling anxious, sad, or depressed

Two young women in coffee shop talking

People who smoke are more likely to have anxiety or depression than people who don’t smoke. Some people feel mood changes for a short time after they quit smoking. Watch for this, especially if you’ve ever had anxiety or depression.

For some people, smoking may seem like it helps with anxiety or depression, but don’t be tricked. Smoking might make you feel better in the short-term, but that’s because the nicotine in cigarettes stops the discomfort of withdrawal, not because it is helping with anxiety or depression. There are much better ways to deal with withdrawal symptoms and mood changes than returning to smoking! The good news is that once people have been smoke-free for a few months, their anxiety and depression levels are often lower than when they were smoking.

Ways to manage:

  • Be Active. Being physically active can help lift your mood. Start small and build up over time. This can be hard to do if you’re feeling down. But your efforts will pay off.
  • Structure your day. Stay busy. Get out of the house if you can.
  • Connect with other people. Being in touch or talking with others every day can help your mood. Try to connect with people who are supportive of your efforts to quit smoking.
  • Reward yourself. Do things you enjoy. Even small things add up and help you feel better.
  • Talk with a healthcare provider. If you don’t feel better in a couple weeks, or your symptoms feel unmanageable, it’s important to contact a healthcare provider.

What if feelings of depression get worse, or don’t get better? You should get help. Talk to your healthcare provider, call the quitline (1-800-QUIT-NOW), or seek appropriate emergency help.