Getting a grip on withdrawal
You’ve decided that the rest of your life will be cigarette free – now comes the hard part. Grumpiness, headaches and, worst of all, "nic fits" – strong cigarette cravings – are some of the "quitter’s flu" symptoms you may face.
Dr. Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, explains what to expect during withdrawal.
What is withdrawal?
For a short period after quitting, Edelman says, you’ll feel quite uncomfortable, because your body is trying to overcome 2 types of addiction:
- physical: Your brain is reacting to the sudden lack of nicotine.
- psychological: Your mind is dealing with the end of habit-related rituals, such as smoking after a good meal, or the hand-to-mouth motion.
What are the symptoms?
Edelman says the most common withdrawal symptoms include:
- trouble sleeping
- cough and sore throat
- dizziness and headaches
- difficulty concentrating
"Most commonly, people become ill-tempered, restless, and get cigarette cravings," Edelman says.
Does everyone experience withdrawal symptoms?
Most people experience one or more symptoms, depending on the length and severity of their addiction, Edelman says. Some people are not as strongly affected by withdrawal symptoms: "they don’t pay attention to them as much, so they aren’t as bothered."
How long does withdrawal last?
Irritability and cravings last one to two weeks, Edelman says, while smoking-related habits – "not smoking after sex, not knowing what to do with your hands" – die harder, after several weeks or months.
How can I deal with withdrawal?
Edelman advises following the four D’s:
- deep breaths: Deep breathing will help you relax and help you deal with cravings.
- drink water: Water flushes out toxins and drinking it keeps your hands busy.
- distract: Keep your mind off smoking by keeping busy. Walking, reading, or watching movies is ideal. "So is exercise – it’s good for your body, keeps you occupied, and gives you a psychological boost," he says.
- delay: Convince yourself that, no matter how long your craving, you can wait it out.
How can I keep from giving up?
Sharing your experience with those close to you helps alleviate the stress of your challenge, Edelman says. Also, keep your eyes on the prize, because it’s a big one. "You’re adding years to your life, decreasing your chances of getting lung or heart disease, improving the health of the people around you," he says. "By quitting smoking, you’re greatly enhancing your quality of life."
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