Nicotine Withdrawal: Timeline, Symptoms, & Effects

It is no secret that most smokers struggle to kick the habit for good. Nicotine is a very addictive substance. In fact, studies have shown that nicotine and cocaine leave similar marks on the brain after first contact. 

Given the extremely addictive nature of the substance, it is no surprise that so few Americans succeed in quitting. One study from 2018 found that 55.1% of adult smokers (21.5 million) said they had made a quit attempt in the past year. Of that 55.1%, only 7.5% (2.9 million) successfully quit smoking. 

To become smoke-free, smokers need to understand how to quit smoking, nicotine withdrawal symptoms, nicotine withdrawal timelines, and more. 

Nicotine Withdrawal Explained
Before we talk about nicotine withdrawal, we have to know what nicotine does. 

Nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream and impacts many different parts of the body. It is both a stimulant and a depressant that affects the central nervous system. 

It releases dopamine in the brain, creating that ‘good feeling’ that smokers crave. Moreover, studies show that nicotine has a positive short-term impact on depression. The same study also found an “improvement of fine motor functions, attention, working memory, and episodic memory.” 

Nicotine also has an immediate impact on the body. Glands release adrenaline, which increases blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. A rush of adrenaline heightens your abilities, focus, and energy levels. 

Now, imagine someone who has a low level of dependency on nicotine. They stop smoking ‘cold turkey’ and instantly experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms. 

Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms Explained
According to one study, nicotine withdrawal symptoms can be classified as affective, somatic, and cognitive. In other words, mood, body, and brain are all impacted by a sudden lack of nicotine. 

Bodily Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
Here are the common bodily symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. 

·Increased appetite and weight gain. One study found that smoking cessation leads to a mean increase of 4 to 5 kg in body weight after 12 months of abstinence, and most of the weight gain occurs in the first three months of quitting. 

The chemicals in cigarettes bind to receptors in the brain that release serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals reduce hunger. When you stop smoking, the chemicals are greatly reduced, leading to new hunger pangs. 

·Headaches. There is little scientific explanation for why nicotine withdrawal induces headaches. The consensus is that withdrawal causes muscle tension, leading to dizziness, headaches, and even migraines.

·Tingling sensation. Nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict and narrow. As a result, circulation is much poorer. But when nicotine exits the body, blood vessels begin to expand to their normal size. The increased blood flow can create a tingling sensation in your hands and legs. 

Mind Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
Here are the common mind and mood symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. 

·Depression. With nicotine no longer in your body, you have less dopamine in your system. The drop in dopamine can leave you feeling tired, depressed, and listless. This phenomenon is so well documented that the American Psychiatric Association recommends integrating smoking cessation treatment with psychiatric care to manage the inevitable low moods.  

·Insomnia. Nicotine impacts the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, which can cause dysregulated sleep. In a study that analyzed 322 women who attempted to quit smoking, sleep disturbances were reported by 25% of participants. 

Real-life Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are so intense that the majority of ex-smokers begin using cigarettes again. The only other alternative is vaping. Naturally Extracted Tobacco (N.E.T.) e-liquids only contain natural flavorings, so they taste like the tobacco that smokers crave. 

Nicotine Withdrawal Timeline
The nicotine withdrawal timeline can be daunting, but it allows you to anticipate and understand your symptoms. 

30 minutes – 4 hours. The effects of the nicotine are dulled, so you crave another hit. 

10 hours. The physical symptoms start to emerge after 10 hours or so. You may start to experience any of the physical and mental nicotine withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, a sore throat, dizziness, and difficulties sleeping. 

24 hours. Most of the nicotine in your system will leave after 24 hours, though this number varies from person to person. At this point, your mood can take a massive nosedive. Lots of people experience anxiety, irritability, and tingling in their arms and legs.

2 days. The symptoms will intensify, and new symptoms may make an appearance. 

3 days. According to some sources, your body should be completely free from nicotine. The nicotine cravings may lessen, but the symptoms tend to peak at this point. You could develop a cough or a sore throat, along with a whole host of other unpleasant side effects. 

1 week. This is a landmark for many ex-smokers, but there’s still a long road ahead. 

1-3 weeks. Your metabolism is adjusting to the loss of nicotine in your blood sugar. You will have less energy, and your brain fog may or may not improve. Some of the harsher symptoms of nicotine withdrawal should start to subside. 

1 month +. The main symptoms should be gone but, as every ex-smoker knows, you will always crave nicotine. 

Don’t let our nicotine withdrawal timeline intimidate you. Everyone experiences different withdrawal symptoms at different points. Besides, there are lots of positive health benefits waiting for you on the other side. 

Coping Strategies for Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are not something to be taken lightly. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on your physiology and nicotine consumption. If you want your withdrawal to be as seamless as possible, you need to find a coping strategy that works for you. 

Personalized Support for Nicotine Withdrawal
Sometimes, smokers just need a bit of extra support to take the leap. offers excellent resources for people who want to quit for good and keep their cravings at bay. You can read articles on how to manage cravings, tips for slips, and coping with stress without smoking. You can even build your own personal quit plan. There is also a live chat feature that allows you to talk to a trained counselor when you need support.

Medical Support for Nicotine Withdrawal
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is a common way to mitigate the negative effects of nicotine withdrawal. If you go down this route, you will take a drug that has a percentage of your typical nicotine consumption. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved five types of NRTs. 

·Nicotine patches
·Nicotine gum
·Nicotine lozenges
·Nicotine nasal spray 
·Nicotine inhaler 

Nicotine nasal spray and nicotine inhalers are the only NRTs that are not available over the counter. To access these therapies, you have to have a prescription from your doctor. 

NRTs gradually lessen the nicotine you consume so you can quit smoking without experiencing the more severe withdrawal symptoms.

Ideally, you need to access medical support at the very beginning of your nicotine withdrawal timeline. That being said, lots of smokers attempt to quit smoking on their own before they concede and try a NRT. 

Mental Health Support for Nicotine Withdrawal
Mental health support is just as important as medical support. Here are some services that offer immediate, real-time support when you need it most. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) teamed up to create the National Texting Portal. This portal offers free support to people who are quitting smoking. It is available 24/7.

The quitSTART app offers free nicotine withdrawal support. There are no barriers, you just need to download the app. It contains tools to track your progress, tips for beating cravings, and games and challenges to keep your mind occupied. 

Lifestyle Changes that Aid in Nicotine Withdrawal
Believe it or not, your lifestyle can have a big impact on how you experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms. 

Exercise doesn’t necessarily improve your chances of quitting for good. As one study put it, “There is no evidence that adding exercise to smoking cessation support improves abstinence compared with support alone”. However, exercise can lessen some of the side effects of withdrawal. 

To combat withdrawal symptoms, we recommend aerobic exercises such as boxing, jogging, and swimming. 

Here are the main benefits of aerobic exercises for ex-smokers.

·Increases “feel good” hormones. Exercise increases the production of the neurotransmitters in your brain, releasing endorphins into your system. Endorphins relieve pain, reduce stress, and improve mood. 

·Counteracts increased appetite. A regular exercise regime can counterbalance any extra weight you might gain when you quit smoking. In turn, this lessens the chance of becoming obese, which is a massive contributor to poor mood, self-esteem, and quality of life. 

·Strengthens your heart. When you exercise, your heart and lungs have to work harder to pump blood and oxygen around your body. This strengthens the blood vessels in both, which could repair some of the damage that has been done by the chemicals in cigarette smoke. 

No matter how far along you are on your nicotine withdrawal timeline, exercise can have a positive impact on your symptoms. 

Holistic Approach to Managing Nicotine Withdrawals
If you are wondering how to ease nicotine withdrawal naturally, you are not alone. Millions of Americans have found success with NRTs, but millions more feel disillusioned by a system that solves a drug addiction problem with more drugs. 

Surely, there must be an alternative. 

Mindfulness for Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
Mindfulness encourages moment-by-moment awareness of bodily sensations, emotions, and the surrounding environment. To start your mindfulness journey, you can engage in breathing exercises, journaling, or even meditation. 

In terms of smoking cessation, mindfulness can reduce the physical discomfort that comes with withdrawal. Mindfulness has proven to be an “important resource to teach patients to self-regulate their respective experience of pain directly with a present-centered and acceptance-based focus.”

Meditation for Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

Meditation is just one step removed from mindfulness. It is known to reduce stress, improve self-control, and increase awareness. Studies show that even brief meditation training induces smoking reduction, proving it to be a great tool in the fight against cigarette cravings. 

When you feel the cravings creeping back in, start meditating. All you need is a quiet room and 20 minutes. 

Here is our simple guide to meditation.

·Remove any distractions 
·Sit crossed-leg on a comfortable surface
·Say “breathe in” in your head as you inhale
·Say “breathe out” in your head as you exhale
·Repeat this process for 10-20 minutes, until you feel your body relaxing 

It’s as simple as that. Meditation brings you back to the present moment, which removes the anxiety and sense of urgency associated with nicotine cravings. 


How Long Do Withdrawals Last?
Withdrawals stop when nicotine leaves your body. A better question is, “How long does it take for nicotine to leave your system?

How Long Does it Take for Nicotine to Leave Your System?
Different sources cite different time frames. 

When we talk about nicotine in the body, we are really talking about cotinine. Cotinine is an alkaloid in tobacco leaves and the main metabolite of nicotine. 
According to the CDC, cotinine has a half-life of around 16 hours. The half-life of a substance is the number of hours for half of it to decay or, in this case, to leave the body. Based on this finding, some people believe that nicotine leaves the system in 32 hours. However, a 2020 study found cotinine in the urine of subjects who consumed nicotine eight weeks ago. 

As you can see, the numbers vary wildly. It is safe to assume that nicotine will stay in your system for anything from a few days to a few weeks after consumption.

What Happens When You Quit Smoking and Start Vaping?
Providing you choose the right nicotine strength for your e-liquid, you will not experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms. When you switch straight from cigarettes to e-cigarettes, all the symptoms vanish. You don’t have to worry about nicotine withdrawal timelines, NRTs, meditation, or anything else. 

Switching from smoking to vaping allows you to get the nicotine hit you desire but without all the extra chemicals that are inside cigarettes. There are 7,000 chemicals in a traditional cigarette, and 69 of those chemicals are known carcinogens. 

According to the CDC, people who smoke cigarettes are at increased risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), among other issues. Although there is much less research into the long-term effects of vaping vs. smoking, it is safe to assume that eliminating 69 carcinogens will improve your overall health.

Does Quitting Smoking Lower Blood Pressure? 
Nicotine stimulates the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine, hormones that increase blood pressure.

The opposite is true when you quit smoking. Your epinephrine and norepinephrine production go back to normal levels. As a result, your blood pressure decreases.

What are the common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal?
Symptoms can be categorized into affective (mood), somatic (body), and cognitive (brain) effects. Common symptoms include increased appetite and weight gain, headaches, tingling sensations, depression, insomnia, and cravings for nicotine.

How long do nicotine withdrawal symptoms last?
The intensity and duration of withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person. Symptoms can start as early as 30 minutes to 4 hours after the last nicotine intake and may peak around the third day, gradually decreasing over the following weeks. Most people find that the main symptoms subside within a month, though cravings can persist longer.

Is it possible to quit smoking without experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms?
Yes, with the right approach and support, you can minimize the impact of withdrawal symptoms. Combining counseling, NRT, and lifestyle changes like exercise and mindfulness can significantly ease the quitting process.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are enough to make even the most determined smoker go back to cigarettes. Headaches, insomnia, and weight gain all await smokers who want to kick the habit for good. 
But there is an alternative.

If you have gone round and round in circles wondering how to quit smoking for good, you might find success in vaping. One study showed that e-cigarettes are 70% more effective in helping smokers quit than NRTs, making it the best option for smokers who want to eliminate harmful carcinogens from their lives.