Nicotine is a legal, highly addictive drug found in many forms. The usual way is cigarettes. It is a stimulant which means it increases heart rate, circulation, and the production of dopamine. Nicotine users report improvements in attention, concentration, and memory. Increasing dopamine translates into feelings of pleasure and relaxation. The feelings of calm pleasure wear off quickly because nicotine does not stay in the body long. More nicotine revives those feelings, thereby producing tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction.
Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, withdrawal symptoms occur for 50% of nicotine users who quit for two days or more. Those who use nicotine for a long time are more likely to have withdrawal symptoms. They can begin as early as 2-3 hours after quitting and can include:
- Difficulty concentrating and paying attention
- Increased appetite, weight gain
- Depressed mood
- Heart rate slows
- Somatic complaints
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Everyone experiences withdrawal differently, but any combination of symptoms can cause significant distress. Smokers with mental health or substance use disorders are likely to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms. Using nicotine again gets rid of the symptoms, consequently, 85% of people who try to quit on their relapse within a week.
How Long Does Nicotine Withdrawal Last?
Physical symptoms of withdrawal peak within days of quitting. They tend to go away after a few weeks and rarely last past one month. The behavioral connections, rituals, and habits created with nicotine use tend to make quitting much harder.
Behavioral aspects of smoking or using nicotine impact withdrawal and can make cravings worse. A significant aspect of nicotine withdrawal is anhedonia. A condition that differs from depressed mood, anhedonia is an inability to feel pleasure. Nicotine gives the brain a burst of dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter that makes us feel pleasure. When nicotine is no longer a stimulant, it takes time for the brain to release dopamine on its own. During this period, a person can feel like nothing will make them feel better except nicotine. Smoking cessation programs target the physical as well as the behavioral aspects of nicotine withdrawal because the lack of enjoyment is an active contributor to relapse.
A highly addictive yet legal drug, nicotine is a stimulant. Removing the stimulant causes people to experience withdrawal symptoms, Physical withdrawal begins with hours of quitting, peaks within 2-3 days and usually wears off within a month. Behavioral aspects of quitting, including an inability to feel pleasure, are stronger contributors to relapse.