Coping with withdrawal symptoms of tobacco consumption

In comparison to non-smokers, smokers are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and sexual dysfunction. After quitting, people experience a shift in their mental state that border close to anxiety or depression.

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Smokers are notorious for skipping meals, particularly breakfast. (File)

By Dr. Kalrav Mistry

Nicotine makes tobacco addictive because cigarettes and other tobacco products release nicotine rapidly within the bloodstream. This makes quitting tobacco even more difficult and increases the likelihood of returning to smoking. Dopamine and serotonin, also known as “feel-good” hormones, are two neurotransmitters that are released while smoking and these hormones are responsible for the heightened craving for tobacco.

A person’s nicotine withdrawal symptoms depend on the frequency of nicotine consumption. While everyone experiences withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit smoking, some symptoms can be mild or even debilitating. These usually begin within a few hours of the last nicotine intake.  The intensity of tobacco reaches its zenith usually on the second or third day after quitting smoking.

Feeling jumpy and jittery is common post quitting 

Irritation, restlessness and anxiety are common withdrawal symptoms post quitting. These experiences of feeling jittery or restless are normal within the first few days or weeks after quitting smoking. Along with the mind, the body also experiences agitation during the initial stages of nicotine withdrawal. An alternative is to be engaged in some mental activity to help overcome the urge to smoke. Meeting and connecting with friends and family has shown the potential to improve one’s mood and thereby replace the need to consume tobacco. During the initial days, it is helpful to be surrounded by those who support and understand the decision to kick the habit of smoking.

Medications to aid in combating insomnia and concentration

Another withdrawal symptom post quitting smoking is experiencing difficulty sleeping. It may be challenging to maintain focus or concentrate at the workplace due to a lack of quality sleep. Lack of concentration is understandable following the cessation of smoking, however, it is advisable to visit a doctor if symptoms persist after a few weeks. Medications that release low levels of nicotine in the bloodstream are also prescribed in unbearable circumstances. These medications are without the tar, carbon monoxide, and other carcinogens found in tobacco smoke and ultimately help reduce the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting smoking like concentration and insomnia.

Monitor diet to counter weight gain and manage heightened hunger cravings

Smokers are notorious for skipping meals, particularly breakfast. Eating regular meals after quitting smoking can lead to an increase in calories that weren’t previously part of a person’s diet. An increased appetite is common and care needs to be taken to monitor the diet as the body’s metabolism may not be as efficient as before. Overeating unhealthy and calorie-loaded foods can lead to unhealthy weight gain. In most cases, the stress of quitting increases the hunger cravings that influence the increase in appetite. To resolve unnecessary weight gain, it is important to add regular exercising to one’s lifestyle post quitting smoking. This also helps alleviate any withdrawal symptoms of nicotine. Regular and consistent exercise per day at a moderate intensity can help reduce the desire to smoke and provide the body with adequate physical activity. 

Practising mindfulness to overcome anxiety and depression

In comparison to non-smokers, smokers are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and sexual dysfunction. After quitting, people experience a shift in their mental state that border close to anxiety or depression. It is however possible to cope with withdrawal symptoms of anxiety and mood swings without resorting back to smoking. Engaging in activities that bring in high rewards, these activities can have a significant impact in a short period of time. Activities like mediating or nature walk help in managing anxiety and depression. 

Nicotine does create a chemical dependency that the body gets addicted to experience at all times. Hence to manage the cravings, one can indulge in Nicotine Replacement Therapy, in the form of gums and patches to help lessen the withdrawal. The short but uncomfortable process can be managed by identifying the physical, mental, emotional and behavioural symptoms that range from irritability, insomnia, and anxiety to increased appetite. By taking one step at a time and giving adequate space for the body to recover and remap itself, coping with withdrawal symptoms becomes much more manageable. 

(The author is a Psychiatrist & De-addiction Specialist, Shalby Multispecialty Hospitals, Ahmedabad. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of

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