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What happens to the body after you quit smoking

What happens to the body after you quit smoking

Giving up smoking is one of the best health choices you can make and understanding the negative effects of quitting can really help you push through and kick the habit for good.

The benefits of quitting smoking will always outweigh the negatives, and it’s good to prepare yourself so you can make the transition as smooth as possible, especially if you’ve been a long-term or heavy smoker.

Daniel Atkinson
Medically reviewed by
Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical lead

Withdrawal is common when stopping smoking, and is most likely the symptom you’ll notice first. Because nicotine is so addictive, it takes a bit of time for your body to get used to life without it. You’ll probably feel the urge to smoke, have mood swings, and some people find that they put on weight. But it’s important to remember this is all temporary. The longer you don’t smoke, the easier it gets.

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Medically reviewed by
Dr Daniel Atkinson
GP Clinical lead
on September 29, 2022.
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What is nicotine?

Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical and the main ingredient in cigarettes and other tobacco products. It’s a stimulant drug and its addictive properties are often the driving force that keeps smokers smoking . Because it’s so addictive, smoking causes more deaths a year than all other drugs, homicides and car accidents combined .

Nicotine works by speeding up the messages between your brain and body. It also causes your brain to release dopamine every time you take a drag, which is why most smokers enjoy the habit despite being aware of the health risks. The longer you smoke, the more dependent your body becomes on getting those dopamine hits and that’s where the addiction takes hold.

How long it takes for someone to get addicted to nicotine can vary but it’s generally thought that the younger you are when you start smoking, the more likely you are to become addicted.

What is nicotine withdrawal?

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when quitting smoking is your body’s response to cutting off its nicotine supply. Your brain has been used to getting dopamine hits every time you smoke, so you may feel some negative effects once the supply stops. Mood swings, restlessness and cravings are all quite common. Your body and mind are noticing a big change so may need time to adjust.

Something to keep in mind is that smoking is often habitual, so craving a smoke when faced with triggers like coffee or alcohol can amplify the withdrawal symptoms and really test your will power. Not everyone will have the same symptoms and how much they affect you can vary. The key is being prepared and getting help if you’re struggling with quitting smoking.

Nicotine withdrawal is short but can be quite intense. Withdrawal symptoms usually peak within the first three days of quitting smoking, and on average last about two to four weeks . but this can vary from person to person.

Once you’ve put out your last cigarette, one of the first side effects you’ll notice are cravings. Studies have shown that nicotine withdrawal symptoms can start in as little as an hour after your last cigarette . Cravings are those intense feelings of wanting to smoke, and they’re caused by both your nicotine addiction and your smoking routine.

If smoking in the morning with a coffee or smoking after dinner was something you did every day, those moments can subconsciously make you want to smoke more.

Two hours after your last cigarette, your body has already worked hard to remove around half of the nicotine in your system . Because you’re physically addicted to nicotine, you may experience some physical side effects like sweating, headaches, difficulty sleeping and even flu-like symptoms. But as the levels of nicotine continue to drop in your body over the next few days, these symptoms will keep reducing until all the nicotine has been flushed out.

After the nicotine has completely left your system, all that’s left are the cravings and the habits. These symptoms can last a bit longer than the physical ones because of the routine you’ve built up as a smoker. Breaking those routines and replacing them with healthier habits is a great way to combat those symptoms and help you stay away from cigarettes for good.

Many people find withdrawal symptoms disappear after two to four weeks, although it can take longer for some. Symptoms tend to come and go in that time but remember that they will pass, and you’ll soon feel much better .

  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of
  • breath
  • Cramps
  • Constipation
  • Flu Symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and sneezing

These physical symptoms can vary from person to person, and you might not experience any at all. They happen because your body is adjusting to the new level of nicotine.

Some people report flu-like symptoms and shortness of breath which can be uncomfortable, but much like a cold or flu you need to give your body time to recover.

  • Craving
  • Irritability, anxiety & depression
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Restlessness or trouble sleeping

Psychological symptoms are difficult to deal with because they can last longer than the physical ones. Cravings can creep up on you from various triggers you might not even be aware of. Breaking old smoking habits can be difficult if you don’t replace them with healthier options.

Coping with nicotine withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawals can be difficult to deal with for some people, while others might find it’s only a slight inconvenience and won’t need any help at all. Luckily, for those that are struggling, there are lots of helpful tips to make quitting smoking easier.

Keeping a diary with your personal list of reasons to quit is a great way to remind yourself of what you’re trying to achieve. Because smoking is habitual, it’s also helpful to note when you’re most likely to smoke, and break these routines by replacing smoking with healthier habits.

If you’re used to having a cigarette along with a drink at your local bar, try not drinking alcohol while you’re quitting smoking. Situations like this can automatically make you want to smoke, so it’s helpful to keep away from triggers that are likely to make you relapse.

Some people find they gain weight when they stop smoking – and that’s OK. The benefits of giving up smoking are far better than any risks of gaining weight, plus, you’ll be able to exercise far better now that you’re not smoking, so shedding any extra weight will be easier. Maintaining an exercise routine and a healthy meal plan are great ways to build healthy habits.

Keeping a good support structure, by telling your friends and family you are quitting smoking, is a great way to help keep you motivated and on track.

Help for smoking cessation

Not everyone will need help quitting smoking, but for those that do, there are plenty of stop smoking options available to make the process easier. Smoking cessation medication can support you with your journey to living smoke free.

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When we present you with stats, data, opinion or a consensus, we’ll tell you where this came from. And we’ll only present data as clinically reliable if it’s come from a reputable source, such as a state or government-funded health body, a peer-reviewed medical journal, or a recognised analytics or data body. Read more in our editorial policy.

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