Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include agitation, restlessness, anxiety, hunger and intense cravings. These effects typically begin a few hours after last tobacco use, and the most intense symptoms occur within two or three days. Symptoms disappear two to four weeks later.
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Each day, countless Americans use cigarettes or other nicotine products. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 80 to 90 percent of regular cigarette smokers are addicted to nicotine.

Many people who are addicted to nicotine want to quit, but they can’t. When they suddenly stop using tobacco, a range of distressing withdrawal symptoms occur. These effects do not last forever, but people suffering from the symptoms often use nicotine again to make them disappear.

Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal

Quitting nicotine cold turkey isn’t the only way to experience withdrawal. Reducing your tobacco use or changing the type of tobacco you use can also induce withdrawal symptoms. For example, switching from standard cigarettes to low-nicotine cigarettes can produce these effects.

Common nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Intense cravings
  • Nausea and abdominal cramping
  • Constipation
  • Depressive feelings
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Hunger
  • Restlessness
  • Thinking problems
  • Insomnia

Cravings are a telltale sign of nicotine withdrawal, and they can occur without warning. When you smoke, nicotine receptors in the brain are activated. These receptors make you want to continue smoking. When these desires are ignored, cravings and other withdrawal symptoms can occur.

Individuals often experience cravings when they are reminded of their past tobacco use. Spending time with a friend who smokes or going to a restaurant where smoking is allowed can trigger cravings. But if you give in to these urges, your addiction to nicotine will continue.

Nicotine Withdrawal Timeline

Timeline of Nicotine Withdrawal Infographic

Individuals who regularly use tobacco have an increased risk for experiencing the painful effects of withdrawal. The most distressing nicotine withdrawal symptoms last between a few days and a couple of weeks.

Some people do everything they can to alleviate these effects. Individuals experiencing nicotine withdrawal symptoms often go back to using tobacco products during their first week of abstinence, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The symptoms of withdrawal eventually fade. However, nicotine can stay in your system long after you last used tobacco. The time it takes to leave your body depends on a number of factors, including your history of nicotine use.

How to Manage Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawing from nicotine isn’t life-threatening, but it can still be uncomfortable. Before you begin abstaining from tobacco, talk to your doctor. He or she can provide you with tips for quitting tobacco or prescribe medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating nicotine addiction.

A physician may recommend nicotine replacement therapy, which helps people taper off of tobacco products. These treatment options include gum, patches, lozenges, inhalers and nasal sprays that provide small amounts of nicotine to the body.

Gradually reducing the dose of nicotine you consume over time can help you decrease dependence on the drug while avoiding withdrawal symptoms.

Support groups can also help. Nicotine Anonymous is a popular self-help program that aims to help people overcome nicotine addiction. With about 550 programs worldwide, this 12-step program comprises a fellowship of people who offer support to one another in their journey to overcome nicotine use.

If you’re dealing with nicotine withdrawal symptoms, find ways to distract yourself from the distressing effects. You can stay active by engaging in sports or spending time with family. Getting plenty of rest is also an effective way to manage difficult symptoms.

Some days will be harder than others. But it is important to remind yourself of the benefits of a tobacco-free life.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Matt Gonzales
Content Writer,
Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for He graduated with a degree in journalism from East Carolina University and began his professional writing career in 2011. Matt covers the latest drug trends and shares inspirational stories of people who have overcome addiction. Certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in health literacy, Matt leverages his experience in addiction research to provide hope to those struggling with substance use disorders.

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