Giving up smoking: the lowdown on withdrawal symptoms

According to the NHS, around 10 million adults in the UK smoke cigarettes (including 23 per cent of women and 25 per cent of men).

These days, most people are aware of the health risks associated with smoking. So if you’re among those who have decided to give up – whether for your health, your family or your bank balance – it may be a good idea to be aware of what’s likely to happen once you put out that final cigarette.

There are many harmful substances in cigarette smoke, including tar and carbon monoxide. But cigarettes also contain a highly addictive substance: namely nicotine. And it’s nicotine that makes you want another cigarette not long after you’ve put one out.

That’s because nicotine boosts your brain’s production of hormones called noradrenaline and dopamine, which affect your mood and your ability to concentrate. But after the initial boost, your levels of these hormones drop, leaving you wanting another cigarette.

When you stop smoking, your body has to adjust to not having that regular shot of nicotine. And during that period of adjustment, you may experience withdrawal symptoms – though the good news is the worst can be over in a few days or weeks.

Here’s what to expect – plus some tips on how to keep your willpower strong:

Week 1: You may have cravings for cigarettes during the first week of giving up.

  • Try distracting yourself by going for a walk, watching a film, cleaning the kitchen – or doing anything that takes your mind off smoking.

Weeks 1-2: Withdrawal symptoms can include indigestion, bloating and constipation at this stage.

  • Beat digestive symptoms by drinking plenty of fluids, eating more fibre and by staying physically active.

Weeks 2-4: You may feel irritable and short tempered, and experience problems with sleep, memory, focus and feel tired.

  • Avoid caffeine and taking naps during the day to help you sleep better at night. If possible, reduce your workload to cut down on stress. Also try relaxation techniques such as having a hot bath, doing yoga, deep breathing or meditation.

Week 4 and onwards: Physical symptoms can start from this stage, including a cough, dry throat and other respiratory symptoms, plus your appetite may increase.

  • Ask your pharmacist about cough and dry throat remedies. Try to satisfy your appetite by eating healthy snacks – and drink plenty of water.

Your local Careway pharmacist can also help you to cope with nicotine withdrawal symptoms by suggesting medicines that replace the nicotine in cigarettes. Called nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products, these include gum, patches, sprays and lozenges –and you can buy them without a prescription.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.