Side Effects of Stopping Smoking

Learn about the main side effects of quitting smoking and how you can beat the cravings and mitigate their effect.

What Are the Side Effects of Stopping Smoking?

With more people giving up smoking than ever before, now is the time to finally stub out that last cigarette.1 However, stopping smoking is a challenge for many people, and the symptoms of giving up smoking can be off putting when you’re considering quitting.

The good news is that any side effects you may experience on your stop smoking journey are temporary, and as your body begins to recover, you will feel healthier and more energised as each day and week passes. In fact, giving up smoking today is one of the best things you can do for your overall health, and you will begin to feel the benefits as soon as you stub out that last cigarette.

That said, it’s important to be aware of the potential side effects of quitting smoking so you are prepared. Here, we explore both the physical and mental symptoms you might experience and how you can mitigate their effects to ensure you stay motivated to quit. Read on to learn more.

Physical Symptoms of Quitting Smoking

Many smokers who quit report experiencing a range of physical symptoms as they begin to recover. Sometimes, these symptoms are collectively known as smoker’s flu, and they often share similarities with normal flu. While many of the side effects of giving up smoking can be unpleasant, there are no dangers associated with nicotine withdrawal, however, if you are concerned for any reason, speak to your local pharmacist or GP.

The physical symptoms of quitting smoking may include:

1.      Fatigue

Fatigue is a common symptom of quitting smoking, often attributed to your body expelling the nicotine and 1000s of other harmful substances as it recovers. If possible, try sleeping when you feel tired to allow your body to heal.

2.      Headaches

Since smoking affects your entire system, not only your lungs, headaches are a relatively common side effect of quitting. Usually, these can easily be mitigated with over-the- counter painkillers.

3.      Nausea

Again, as smoking affects your whole body, nausea is often reported and feeling a little sick is quite common. Drinking lots of water and eating healthy foods can help with this.

4.      Tingling in Hands and Feet

When you quit smoking, your heart rate, blood pressure, and circulation will begin to return to normal. This may cause a tingling sensation in your hands and feet. This is usually nothing to worry about and will pass with time.

5.      Coughing

As your lungs begin to recover, they attempt to expel all the mucus and other material that has built up in your lungs. Specifically, the cilia which are responsible for removing mucus out of the lungs will work more effectively, and so coughing as a symptom of giving up smoking is a good sign!

6.      Sore Throat

Among the most common side effects of giving up smoking, a sore throat may seem counterintuitive as you are no longer inhaling smoke. However, this is often related to coughing as your lungs begin to recover.

7.      Chest Pain

In the same way as your throat may become inflamed from coughing, you may also experience chest pain. Again, this is usually nothing to worry about and will relieve itself as you cough less.

8.      Constipation

Nicotine directly affects intestinal transit, and one in six smokers2 may develop constipation. Bloating and abdominal pain may also be present due to increased pressure on the abdominal wall.

9.      Dry mouth

Quitting smoking can lead to a dry, sticky mouth. Drinking plenty of water or chewing sugar-free sweets can help with this.

10.  Increased Appetite

Nicotine is a known appetite suppressant,3 and most smokers will experience an increase in appetite when they quit. Ensuring you eat healthy foods and stick to sugar-free snacks is the best way to avoid any potential weight gain associated with quitting.

Psychological Symptoms of Quitting Smoking

While smoking’s effects on the body are well known, the psychological, emotional, and mental effects are often overlooked. Smoking affects the brain in numerous ways, with the nicotine directly activating neurotransmitters to release dopamine and other chemicals that interfere with the subcortical brain regions.4

The psychological symptoms of quitting smoking may include:

11.  Intense Cravings for Nicotine

Naturally, as the nicotine begins to leave your body your brain begins miss that rush of dopamine. This is the addictive nature of the drug and one of the main reasons people find it so difficult to quit. Intense cravings will usually pass after 2-4 weeks, however, NRT can also help smokers work through them over time to become smoke-free.

12.  Irritability, Frustration, and Anger

A short temper is perhaps the most common side effect of quitting smoking, and irritability, frustration, and even anger are often associated with smoking cessation. Each person will experience this side effect differently, and some may not at all. Deep breathing exercises can help, as well as a meditation techniques.

13.  Anxiety and Depression

Thinking that you may never feel good again is a direct result of the nicotine leaving your body and your dopamine levels no longer being stimulated by the drug. Both anxiety and depression are common side effects of stopping smoking, and they can be difficult to deal with during the first few days of quitting. For help dealing with these feelings, speak to a loved one or contact the NHS Smokefree helpline for professional advice and guidance.

14.  Restlessness

Restlessness is often associated with quitting smoking as the nicotine cravings begin to set in. Additionally, the habit-forming part of the addiction and your usual smoking routine are broken, leaving you with extra time on your hands. Try distracting yourself with work or a game of some sort, and if that doesn’t work, try exercise or some other physical activity.

15.  Insomnia

Insomnia is a particularly challenging side effect of giving up smoking as it means you are a) awake for longer and so craving nicotine for longer, and b) extremely fatigued and feeling weak which may cause you to relapse. Try exploring sleep hygiene habits, drinking herbal teas, or taking a bath before bed to beat it.

16.  Difficulty Concentrating

As the nicotine begins to leave your body, you may find that your attention span is shortened and you have difficulty concentrating. You may also be fixated on smoking, with your thoughts constantly going back to cigarettes. Try keeping your hands and mouth busy by chewing gum, playing a game, or solving a puzzle. Additionally, take regular breaks from work and do physical activity.

You may experience other side effects and symptoms as you are quitting smoking, however, it is important to remember that these symptoms will pass over time. Some will take a few hours or days and others may take a few weeks. Either way, sticking to your resolution to quit is the best thing you can do for your health in the long term.

For more information and support on how to quit smoking, contact your local NHS stop smoking services or speak to your pharmacist or doctor about how nicotine replacement therapy can help you beat the cravings and keep you on track.

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