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Managing nicotine withdrawal

Withdrawal can be unpleasant so it’s useful to think of the symptoms as signs that your body is recovering from smoking. Some people only have a few mild symptoms but others have more severe symptoms that are harder to deal with. Most people find that symptoms are gone within two to four weeks (though for some people they may last longer). Symptoms tend to rise and fall over several weeks. Remember, it all passes if you hang on and stay quit. 

Nicotine replacement products and quitting medication can reduce most withdrawal symptoms. 

Common recovery symptoms include:

  • Cravings
    • While they can be quite strong at first, they usually last only a few minutes. Resist each one and they get less frequent until they’re just memories.       
  • Restlessness and/or difficulty concentrating or sleeping
    • These feelings will pass as your system settles down. Deep breathing and relaxation exercises can help. It’s also important to reduce your caffeine intake, i.e. coffee, cola, chocolate, and tea. When you quit your body absorbs almost twice as much caffeine, which can make you feel restless, anxious and irritable.Quitting smoking is hard enough without the effects of too much caffeine as well!
  • Irritability, anger, anxiety, depressed mood
    •  It’s normal to feel emotional early on - don’t panic. Accept that you might be more emotional for a while and it will pass.
  • Increase in appetite and weight gain
    • You may have an increase in appetite for several weeks. Planning ahead to help keep weight gain low – see managing weight gain for helpful tips. 

Less common recovery symptoms can include:

  • Cold symptoms such as coughing, sore throat, sneezing
  • Constipation
    • Talk to your pharmacist if it becomes a problem
  • Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
  • Mouth ulcers

If you are really struggling with withdrawal symptoms, or they are not going away, consult your doctor or call the Quitline for advice.

Why do I feel so emotional?

In the first few days or weeks, quitting can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. It’s normal to feel emotional when you make a big change. Giving up cigarettes can feel like losing a friend. Having an idea of what to expect can help. You can recognise and acknowledge the change in your emotions and understand that it’s just a stage. If you can ride through the hard times then gradually your emotions will settle down and you will feel more confident and comfortable without cigarettes.

Ways to manage nicotine withdrawal 

Nicotine Replacement Products or Quitting Medication

If you are troubled by very strong and persistent cravings, you should consider using a nicotine replacement product or quitting medication. You can read detailed information about them here, or see the Quitting Product Selection Guide (below) for an overview of these products.

The cheapest way to buy a nicotine replacement product or a quitting medication is to ask your doctor for a prescription. The government pays part of the cost of prescribed patches or quitting medications.

Remember, the most effective way to quit is:

Coaching + Nicotine replacement products or Quitting Medication

Other ways to manage withdrawal

Focusing your attention on something that gives you pleasure or is relaxing can help with withdrawal, such as:

  • Do exercise you enjoy
    • Exercise can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It can also lower stress and help keep your weight down.
  • Get involved in new or favourite hobbies
    • or spend more time with supportive friends and family.
  • Focus on relaxation
    • Get a massage or spa, try deep breathing exercises, listen to music, or take yoga or Pilates classes.

Remember the good things that are happening to your body as well. Now that you’ve stopped smoking, your body can start to heal and reverse the damage from cigarettes.

 

Quitting product selection guide

Patches Nicotine replacement product

The patch is worn on the skin and your body absorbs nicotine from it continuously, either during the day only (15mg, 16 hr patch) or over 24 hours (21mg, 24 hr patch).

The patch typcially comes in three strengths for weaning off nicotine over 12 or so weeks: Step 1 (21mg), Step 2 (14mg) and Step 3 (7mg). Some smokers benefit from just using Step 1, others from stepping down through all three strengths. Since May 2013, a 25mg (step 1) 16 hr patch has also been available, which goes with a 15mg (step 2) and 10mg (step 3) patch.

There is also an option of a pre-quit patch (21mg, 24 hrs) for use in the two weeks prior to quitting. The pre-quit patch is for smokers who struggle to quit completely the first day they start the patches.

Patches are available at a more affordable subsidised cost on prescription from a GP. Using the patches can help to reduce withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, irritability, and restlessness. Patches nearly double your chance of quitting.

Gum Nicotine replacement product

Nicotine gum is chewed for a short while and releases nicotine while you rest it in the side of your mouth. The gum comes in two strenghts: 2mg and 4mg.

Take the gum at regular times during the day to help prevent cravings or just before entering situations where you expect cravings.

Gum is useful if: you want to control how much nicotine you take, you have bad morning cravings or if you get most of your cravings in particular situations.

Gum is not suitable if you have dentures or some types of dental work.

Gum nearly doubles your chance of quitting.

Lozenge Nicotine replacement product

Nicotine lozenges and mini lozenges are tablets that dissolve in your mouth. They are available in standard (2mg/1.5mg) strength and extra (4mg) strength.

Take the lozenge at regular times during the day to help prevent cravings or just before entering situations where you expect cravings.

Take more than one or extra strength varieties when you expect strong cravings.

You can also use lozenges while cutting down the number of cigarettes you smoke before you stop smoking.

The lozenge nearly doubles your chance of quitting.

Mouth spray Nicotine replacement product

The mouth spray works by replacing some of the nicotine you would normally inhale from cigarettes, providing comfort by lessening withdrawal symptoms and helping your body wean off nicotine over a number of weeks.

To release the nicotine, you spray on the inside of your cheek, or under your tongue, once or twice. A benefit of this product is the speed of the nicotine’s absorption into your system compared to other oral nicotine products.

Using the mouth spray can help to reduce withdrawal symptoms when you quit, such as cravings, irritability, and restlessness. Mouth spray nearly doubles your chance of quitting.

Inhalator Nicotine replacement product

The inhalator works by replacing some of the nicotine you would normally inhale from cigarettes, providing comfort by lessening withdrawal symptoms and helping your body wean off nicotine over a number of weeks.

You insert a cartridge into the inhalator and draw the vapor into your mouth. You can puff on it as long as you would a cigarette – after around 80 puffs, or 15 minutes or so, the cartridge will be empty. A benefit of the inhalator is that it mimics the hand-to-mouth action of smoking.

Using the mouth spray can help to reduce withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, irritability, and restlessness. The inhalator nearly doubles your chance of quitting.

Champix Quitting medication

Champix is a medication developed to help people quit smoking and is available on prescription from your GP. It works by reducing withdrawal symptoms and by blunting the satisfying effects of smoking. Using Champix can help reduce withdrawal symptoms when you quit, such as cravings, irritability and restlessness.

Champix is a 12-week course. The advice is to continue to smoke in the first week and to set a quit date for some time in the second week. As the dose builds up, cigarettes will start to be less desirable, and it will be easier to cut down before your quit date. It’s important to take Champix for the full 12 weeks, even if you’re feeling confident, to help prevent relapse.

Champix more than doubles your chance of quitting.

Zyban Quitting medication

Zyban is an anti-craving medication that is available on prescription to help people stop smoking. Using Zyban can help to reduce withdrawal symptoms when you quit, such as cravings, irritability and restlessness. Zyban can also make smoking feel less rewarding.

Zyban is a 9-week course. You slowly build the dose up in the first week. The advice is to continue to smoke in the first week of Zyban, and set a quit date for some time in the second week. It’s important to take Zyban for the full nine weeks, even if you’re feeling confident, as even after regular cravings have faded, staying on Zyban can help prevent relapse.

Zyban nearly doubles your chance of quitting.

 

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