Effects of Smoking Cigarettes
No one needs to tell you that smoking is bad for you. We all know that. Sometimes, though, it’s good to take a step back and look at how smoking cigarettes affects our bodies.
Whether you’ve been smoking for many years or just a few weeks, the physical and behavioral symptoms of quitting can be equally intense. Physical withdrawal symptoms will typically hit the hardest during the first week and month, but nicotine affects many parts of the body. Quitting also affects your brain, metabolism, hormones and cardiovascular system.1, 2, 3 While withdrawal symptoms may be difficult in the short term, the benefits of cessation outweigh them in the long term. Learn what changes to expect physically and physiologically when you stop lighting up, get tips for managing common withdrawal symptoms so you can get past the worst of it, and never turn back.
What to Expect in Week 1
Short term withdrawal symptoms happen first, and they’re overwhelmingly physical. These physical withdrawal symptoms can last up to a month and are usually most intense in the first week.
In the first 24 hours, you’re likely to experience physical cravings and restlessness. Your body has been used to its nicotine fix, so you may feel irritable and even bored with your newfound free time. Your sense of smell and taste will return and your appetite will increase. After 48 hours, the nicotine wearing off may cause headaches.
After three days without nicotine in your body, you may experience anxiety. The plus side: your cravings should start subsiding.4,5
What to Expect in Weeks 2-4
Stick it out past the crucial first week, and the physical symptoms get easier in Week 2. After two weeks, physically, you may feel low on energy. Emotionally and mentally, you’ll probably still feel anxious, depressed and irritable.
But the harshest of your withdrawal symptoms, such as increased appetite, depressed mood and anxiety, will start to diminish. Keep pushing to get through your first smoke-free month.
What to Expect After 5+ Weeks
After the first month, the toughest battle is in your head. Your emotions may go through as many ups and downs as you experienced in the difficult first weeks of physical withdrawal symptoms. Anxiety, depressed mood and irritability may creep back in, and cravings can return, causing bad mood and even anger. But with nicotine out of your system, fighting cravings in this phase is mostly a mental struggle.6
How to Manage
Cravings: Your body relied on nicotine when you smoked, so don’t feel pressured to quit cold turkey.7 To combat cravings, use a nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as a NicoDerm CQ patch, Nicorette Gum or Nicorette Lozenge. NicoDerm CQ gradually administers lower doses of nicotine in two or three steps until your body no longer needs a fix.
Restlessness, irritability, boredom and headache: these are all caused by your need for that fix.8 You’re already partway there by using a nicotine replacement therapy. Now incorporate some behavioral strategies like filling your schedule so you stay active—not idle and more likely to cave. Make plans with friends, join a team or group activity, and reward yourself when you power through a craving.
Increased appetite: After you stop smoking, you may notice an increase in appetite. A sudden hankering for sweets and fatty foods may occur,9 and you may also eat more because you have more free time. Make healthy food choices when you do eat, and use Nicorette Gum, Nicorette Lozenge or NicoDerm CQ to fight your cravings instead of eating just to fill the time.
Weight gain: With changes in appetite, your weight may increase. To avoid putting on the pounds that many people gain when they quit, commit to eating healthy and exercising. Eat more small meals instead of fewer large ones. Eat more slowly so you notice when you feel full.10
Anxiety: Practice stress management and self-care. Breathing exercises, yoga and other forms of exercise can help regulate your mood as well as your appetite and sleep cycle if you’ve experienced sleeplessness since quitting.11 Another anxiety-reducing tip: decaffeinate. Caffeinated drinks can increase nicotine withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, so switch to a decaffeinated coffee or tea.12
Low energy: After quitting, withdrawal symptoms can contribute to a decrease in energy. Nicotine acts as a stimulant. Without it, your body can experience fatigue.13 Get the sleep you need, stay hydrated, and avoid alcohol and other substances that can result in low energy and fatigue.
Depression: Symptoms can be different for everyone, but it’s important to manage your mental health just as you would your physical symptoms. Low and depressed mood can occur within the first month of quitting, but if you experience depression for longer after quitting smoking (or you have experienced it before), see your doctor for help balancing your mental wellness.14
Smoke-free commitment: Past the five-week mark, continue to use your chosen NRT as directed and stay mentally strong with the help of family and friends or a support group. You can find such a group online, at a local clinic or through mobile apps for smoke-free communities.15
1, 2, 3
Do you need a cigarette or do you only think you do? Fighting nicotine cravings is both a physical and psychological battle. But there’s evidence that including behavioral counseling and therapies in your quit plan contributes to successful smoking cessation.1,2,3 Whether it’s your first or 10th attempt to swear off smoking, find out how behavioral changes can help you quit—and stay smoke-free.
Consider Behavioral Counseling
The number of times it takes to quit smoking varies for everyone, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 8 to 11 attempts.4 If you tried to quit cold turkey and it didn’t stick, you may need a more effective method. Research shows smokers are, on average, three times more likely to remain smoke-free if they use a combination of medication and behavioral therapies versus using no quit-smoking aids. 5,6 Another study reported abstinence rates of only 7 percent for unassisted quitters, compared to 15.2 percent for quitters who used assistance in the form of self-help, counseling and/or nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).7,8 If you’re on or beyond your second quit attempt, trying again can feel discouraging, but pairing nicotine replacement therapy with behavioral support can help boost your chances of success.
As part one of this quit strategy, an NRT like the NicoDerm CQ patch, Nicorette Gum or Nicorette Lozenge works to prevent cravings by lowering your nicotine dose. Instead of smoking to get your nicotine fix, a nicotine patch administers the nicotine gradually in controlled doses over several weeks. 9 NicoDerm CQ helps prevent the urge to smoke all day long through SmartControl Technology, which delivers therapeutic levels of nicotine so you can quit.
For part two, combine NRT with behavioral support like counseling that focuses on finding solutions instead of analyzing past experiences. You may consider working with a therapist to connect the dots between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors to change habits formed around smoking. Therapy can help you reframe negative thought patterns as goal-oriented thoughts to control your reaction and the outcome: “Quitting now prevents further damage to my body. I feel ready to try again.” If you turned to cigarettes to relieve anxiety, a behavioral counselor can also help you find new, healthy ways to cope with stress.10
You should be proud of the work you’ve put in to get this far. Now that you’ve quit, ensure you’re making choices that support your success. The focus of your new quit plan is staying smoke-free. Once again, research has shown that a combination of medication and behavioral support can impact smoking cessation.11,12
If you’re tempted to smoke at the end of your quit attempt, make any lifestyle changes to avoid triggers that could spark a craving and cause a relapse. If you’re working on your own without a counselor, you can apply the approaches and principles that your therapist recommends. Behavioral support can include lifestyle and behavioral adjustments like the following.
Identify and manage your smoking triggers
Cut out behaviors (taking breaks with other smokers), social settings (attending happy hour with colleagues) and physical objects (lighters and ashtrays) that used to be part of your lifestyle when you smoked. Our thoughts can inform our feelings around these behaviors—so identifying smoking triggers and changing old habits may help redirect thoughts and feelings around the act of smoking.13 If you can shift your thinking, you may see a once pleasurable activity as a habit that’s no longer desirable.
Rely on a friend
Having someone to check in with on a regular basis can help you maintain your healthy new lifestyle. It could be a quit buddy who is going through the same process, someone who successfully quit in the past or a friend or family member who cares about your health.
Health apps can be key tools that keep you focused and track your progress. Use one as a virtual coach and accountability partner which can be a DIY alternative to a counselor. An app like MyQuit from Nicorette and NicoDerm CQ offers personalization settings to develop a custom plan. The app lets you declare a quit date, set your NRT preference, follow quit milestones, track smoking triggers with GPS, log cravings and slip-ups, and calculate savings as a result of quitting. For automated reminders, subscribe to the app’s email support program to receive weekly motivation in your inbox.
You no longer crave a cigarette within an hour of waking up. For a healthier start to your day, replace your morning smoke with a meal. Instead of skipping breakfast, smell the coffee and enjoy your favorite eggs as your taste buds and sense of smell start to return.
Once you get to work, optimize your new, smoke-free schedule. Instead of taking the smoker’s daily average of four cigarette breaks around 10 minutes each, you could produce 40 minutes of pure, focused work, run two 20-minute meetings or cross four small tasks off your to-do list.
You’re no longer shelling out cash for cigarettes. Use the money you’ve saved on something you need, or splurge on a reward for your hard work.
Smokers spend around 40 minutes a day smoking.2 By quitting, you just took back four hours of your week. Use that time to be more productive.
You used to spend five sick days a year tending to smoking-related medical issues. Now with around 40 extra minutes a day, add a fitness session for a new healthy routine at home or the gym. Start with 10 minutes and work your way up in 10-minute increments.3
When that afternoon nicotine craving hits, distract from the urge by eating a healthy snack instead, such as fruit and yogurt with Vitamin D. The natural sugar will release slowly to help regulate your blood sugar if you feel shaky.4
The U.S. spends $170 billion annually in medical care on smokers.5 Calculate your individual annual smoking-related health expenses and estimate savings after quitting. To keep costs down, talk to your doctor about how nicotine replacement therapy can help you stay smoke-free.
The average smoker spends approximately 40 minutes a day away from their work.1 Read on to find seven more productive, healthier, and less expensive things to do with your newfound time and cash.
"I smoked 2 packs a day for 35 years. Two years ago, I made my mind up. No more cigarettes. I used the Nicorette Gum Cinnamon Surge, which worked for me."
“I quit smoking two years ago with help from Nicorette Gum. I would still love to have a cigarette at times, but I love breathing better!!”
“I've been quit for 11 months after smoking for 40 years. I used NicoDerm patches.”