Understanding withdrawal symptoms

Nicotine is an addictive chemical found in tobacco products. It only takes a few cigarettes to start building a tolerance, followed by dependence on nicotine. When your body gets low on nicotine you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms can start just a couple of hours after your last cigarette and may include restlessness, irritability, anxiety and stress, cravings, trouble concentrating, low mood and trouble sleeping.

Think of the above as recovery symptoms. They are the first signs that your body is beginning to heal itself from the damage caused by smoking.

Symptoms are likely to rise and fall over several weeks, so it's important to plan ways to manage nicotine withdrawal and remember all the reasons why you want to quit for good.

Try the 4Ds

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Delay for 1-2 minutes and the urge will pass
Cup with water icon
Sip it slowly
Face breathing icon
Take three slow, deep breaths of fresh air
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To take your mind off smoking
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Ways to cope with specific withdrawal symptoms

  • Tenseness/irritability: Go for a walk, take deep breaths, relax in a warm bath, meditate or try some stretching exercises.
  • Appetite changes: Maintain a balanced diet with healthy snacks and meals. Get inspiration from the LiveLighter website.
  • Constipation/gas: Drink plenty of fluids, eat lots of fruits, vegetables and high fibre cereal.
  • Difficulty sleeping: Try these sleep hacks.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Break large projects into smaller tasks and take regular breaks.
  • Cough, dry throat and mouth, nasal drip: Stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Depression: Reach out to a loved one, Beyond Blue or your doctor.

If you have a strong dependency on nicotine, you might find your withdrawal symptoms more difficult to manage. If you need additional support or ideas, contact the Quitline or chat to your doctor or pharmacist to find out if stop smoking medications are right for you.

WATCH: How to get through withdrawal
Dr Peter Wynn Owen
Distract yourself to shift your focus away from the discomfort of withdrawal
Go for a walk
Exercise can reduce cravings, lower stress and contribute to weight management.
Keep your brain and hands busy
Catch up with a friend or family member, play a game on your phone, squeeze a stress ball, chew gum or breathe through a straw.
Find a relaxing activity
Listen to music or a podcast, or try yoga, meditation or deep breathing techniques.

Common triggers to smoke

Your habits and emotions can play a big role in triggering that urge for another cigarette, but with some simple lifestyle changes, you can resist the cravings and kick the habit for good.

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Family and friends

If your family, friends, partner or housemate smoke, it's important to share your plan with them. The people you surround yourself with might not be ready to quit at the same time as you, but their support can help you to stay on track!

Here are a few things that you may need to consider when starting your quitting journey:

  • What type of support do you want from your partner or housemate?
  • Is it possible to make your home smoke-free or create a designated smoking area?
  • How will you socialise without being tempted to smoke?
  • How can they keep cigarettes out of your sight?

TIP: Practice saying “No, I don’t smoke” and don’t make the mistake of having 'just one', it's never a good idea!
Still struggling managing your withdrawal?

Many people struggle with these symptoms as they break their nicotine addiction, but there are resources available to help you manage them. Here are two actions you can take right now to support your quit journey:

Find tips on quitting
Find practical advice on how to stay motivated and maintain your commitment to quitting smoking.
Learn your nicotine addiction level
Take our quiz to assess your level of nicotine dependence and get personalised feedback on how to approach quitting smoking.

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