When quitting smoking, a person may experience one or more symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal. Using different strategies and treatments may help lessen the severity of these symptoms.

Nicotine withdrawal may occur when a person stops smoking. This is because the brain and body may need to get used to no longer receiving regular nicotine.

Though uncomfortable, nicotine withdrawal is typically harmless. However, some people may experience more intense or severe symptoms than other people.

Over time, nicotine withdrawal symptoms should decrease until a person no longer feels the need to smoke.

In the meantime, a person can try several methods to help relieve nicotine withdrawal symptoms. This article reviews several tips to help with nicotine withdrawal that a person may find helpful when they quit smoking.

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When going through nicotine withdrawal, a person may experience cravings for cigarettes. Finding a safe replacement or substitute for cigarettes may help.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a person try holding the following replacements in their hands or mouth:

A person may find it helpful to try using these replacements before they quit to see which replacement may work best for them.

A person may also find that keeping their mouth busy with a chewing action helps. This may include chewing:

Triggers are anything that causes a person to have an increased desire to have a cigarette. For some, this could be doing an activity they used to do when smoking, such as sitting at a bar or watching TV.

Some common triggers may include:

  • social triggers, such as being at social events or around others who are smoking
  • pattern or activity triggers, which may include having an alcoholic beverage, starting the day, drinking a cup of coffee or tea, or being in a car
  • emotional triggers, like feeling stressed, bored, sad, happy, or excited

How a person handles triggers depends on what causes their urge to smoke. Some possible ways a person may handle triggers include:

  • asking others not to smoke in their car or home
  • planning a wake-up routine that does not involve smoking
  • learning new relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises or meditation, to help with stress and strong emotions
  • using cigarette substitutes on car rides or when out with friends, such as gum or hard candies
  • talking with friends and family about quitting smoking and asking for support

NRT may help some people manage nicotine withdrawal. NRT allows a person’s body to receive nicotine without smoking.

The goal of NRT is to provide gradually decreasing amounts of nicotine, which allows the person to slowly taper off of nicotine over several weeks or months.

Nicotine is the addictive component in cigarettes. It is not a carcinogen (cancer-causing chemical), so sometimes healthcare professionals recommend using NRT over weaning off cigarettes.

NRT includes patches, gum, inhalers, sprays, or lozenges.

A person can typically start NRT 1–2 weeks before quitting to help with the transition. However, they should speak with a healthcare professional for further guidance.

If cravings persist or worsen while a person uses NRT, a doctor can help the person determine whether increasing their dose or trying a different type of NRT will help.

Learn more about smoking cessation aids here.

According to the CDC, an effective medication for quitting smoking is varenicline. It helps block the nicotine receptors in the brain. This helps reduce cravings for cigarettes.

Varenicline also allows for the release of dopamine, which creates the good feelings associated with smoking.

Allowing the release of some dopamine means a person is less likely to experience symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal.

A person living with a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression, may feel like smoking helps with their condition. While it may provide some short-term relief, smoking is not an effective treatment method.

After quitting, a person may experience worsening mood changes. To help cope with or prevent worsening depression, anxiety, or mood in general, a person can try the following:

  • regularly exercising and eating a nutrient-dense diet
  • staying busy with other activities
  • rewarding themselves for any progress they’ve made
  • connecting with other people

People living with mental health conditions can talk with their doctor before quitting smoking so that any mental health exacerbations can be caught early and managed.

Mental health resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and resources on mental health and well-being.

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If nicotine cravings become intense or do not go away despite trying different coping tips, a person can reach out to a doctor. A healthcare professional may be able to recommend additional or alternative therapies to help reduce withdrawal symptoms.

People living in the United States who are interested in quitting smoking may also want to call the CDC’s Quitline at 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) for free coaching over the phone.

Alternatively, people can check out the CDC’s Quit Guide for additional tips on stopping smoking.

Nicotine withdrawal can cause a person to crave smoking and experience other changes in their mood. Though it may be uncomfortable, it is typically not harmful.

A person may try several methods to help themselves quit smoking and manage nicotine withdrawal. Methods a person may try include using NRT and medications, as well as making lifestyle changes and adjustments to help reduce the urge to smoke.

People can speak with a doctor if they are still experiencing nicotine withdrawal symptoms despite trying different methods to reduce them. A doctor may be able to recommend alternative or additional treatments to help.