This means arming yourself with as much information as possible, so you know what to expect from day to day. It also means understanding what happens to your body when you stop smoking, helping you to visualize a healthier way of life when you’re 100% smoke free. Here then, we look at what happens after you quit smoking and how you can handle the worst cravings so you can help your body heal.
What happens when you stop smoking?
Firstly, the good news! Despite the damage caused by smoking, your body has an amazing capacity to heal itself. According to the stop smoking timeline, your heart rate and blood pressure will return to normal in as little as 20 minutes2 after you extinguish your last cigarette. This is because the chemicals in your blood metabolise and leave your system.
Cigarettes contain more than 7,000 harmful chemicals3 that affect your body in a variety of known and unknown ways, and when you quit, you stop ingesting those chemicals. This of course, includes nicotine, the addictive component of cigarettes that raises your blood pressure. It also includes carbon monoxide, and after 8 hours of quitting your oxygen levels return to normal as the CO2 leaves your body.
At this point, however, you will likely be craving a cigarette. After 48 hours, nicotine leaves your body and your lungs begin to clear the debris that has built up there over time. At this point, it’s important to understand the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and to stay calm—the most intense cravings will likely last for between three days and a week.
What happens after you quit smoking? — Nicotine cravings
It is already well-known that nicotine cravings are the most common reason for failed quit attempts. Nicotine is a powerful and addictive mind-altering drug that affects the body in numerous ways.
It does this by causing the release of noradrenaline, acting as stimulating on the brain. However, the effects of increased acetylcholine and beta-endorphin production may also increase focus, relieve anxiety, and provide calming effects alongside stimulant effects. Over the long term, nicotine also effects the dopamine system, significantly altering your brain’s reward, mood, and addiction responses4.
So, put simply, what happens to your body when you stop smoking is that this drug that you have become dependent upon is no longer present in your blood stream. This causes changes in the chemical composition of your body, most significantly in your dopamine system. In turn, this leads to nicotine cravings that cause a huge range of symptoms, including lethargy and even depression.
It is this dramatic response to nicotine withdrawal that makes it so difficult to quit. In essence, your body and brain are desperate to fulfil a need created by the addictive properties of the drug—creating a vicious circle that leads many people back to cigarettes.
This is why the use of NRT and other types of support are advised to help you mitigate the worst symptoms5 —helping you to navigate the first few months of your stop smoking journey and manage the chemical changes in your body that are associated with withdrawal.
What happens to your body when you stop smoking? – Other benefits
If you are quitting, there are plenty of benefits that you should keep in mind as you are dealing with the nicotine cravings and after the worst of the symptoms have dissipated. These include:
- Better breathing as your lungs clear up and your bronchial tubes start to relax
- Improved circulation that leads to easier exercise
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Reduced risk of lung cancer and other cancers
- Reduced risk of heart attack and stroke
In fact, as your body recovers, you can expect generally better health, increased energy levels, lower stress and anxiety, better sleep, and a better sex life. You will also save money and eliminate the risk to others from passive smoking.
It is important to remember, however, that quitting smoking can be a real challenge, and combining different type of support with stop smoking aids such as NRT will give you the best possible chance to quit. Contact your local NHS Stop Smoking Service today to draw up a stop smoking plan, and browse our website to discover the best type of NRT product for your lifestyle and smoking habits.