By Naomi Carr

Last updated: 16 April 2024 & medically reviewed by Dr. David Miles

Nicotine is an addictive substance found in various products, most commonly in cigarettes, other tobacco products, or vapes. Stopping nicotine use can result in withdrawal symptoms, particularly after heavy and prolonged use. Various treatments and services are available to support those who wish to stop nicotine use and reduce unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that can occur.

Key takeaways:

Common withdrawal symptoms from nicotine include:

  • Cravings

  • Anxiety

  • Irritability

  • Restlessness

  • Anger

  • Frustration

  • Impaired concentration

  • Insomnia

Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

Does nicotine cause withdrawal symptoms?

Yes, nicotine often causes stimulant withdrawal symptoms, particularly when stopped abruptly and after heavy and extended use. Withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person and can be mild to moderate, and in some cases may feel more severe but are not life-threatening. Regardless of severity, they tend not to last more than a month or two. [1][2]

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance and can be habit-forming after several weeks of use. Individuals who use nicotine heavily and for a prolonged period are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping use. Physical dependence can develop quickly, whether using cigarettes, vapes, or other nicotine products. [3]

Physical dependence occurs when the body becomes accustomed to nicotine and requires continued use to function normally. If use is reduced rapidly or stopped, this results in physical and emotional effects, known as withdrawal symptoms. [1][4]

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms

When reducing or stopping nicotine use, it is common to experience withdrawal symptoms, including:[1][3][4][5]

  • Cravings

  • Anxiety

  • Irritability

  • Tearfulness

  • Restlessness

  • Anger

  • Low mood

  • Frustration

  • Impaired concentration

  • Insomnia

  • Poor quality sleep

  • Increased appetite

  • Increased weight

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness

  • Coughing

  • Fatigue

  • Constipation

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms can feel very unpleasant but are not life-threatening or dangerous. However, some people might experience extreme changes in mood, such as severe depression or anxiety. This may require professional support, particularly if thoughts of suicide emerge, and should be monitored and managed safely. [3]

Nicotine withdrawal timeline

Typically, nicotine withdrawal symptoms will emerge within hours after the previous cigarette or nicotine use. Within the first three days of abstinence, withdrawal symptoms will reach their most severe, with these symptoms lasting for around one week. [2][3]

Over the following few weeks, symptoms will likely reduce in severity, often being completely alleviated after four to six weeks. This can vary, and some people might continue to experience withdrawal symptoms for several months, particularly those who have used nicotine products heavily for several years.[2][5]

Nicotine cessation timeline

particularly helpful for those who have smoked heavily for a long time, as they are likely to have developed a strong physical dependence. [1]

Appropriate cessation will vary from person to person, depending on the amount and duration of nicotine use and the withdrawal symptoms they experience. For example, a potential cessation timeline may involve reducing use by one cigarette every 1-3 days. It can be helpful to ask a professional for guidance with cessation that meets individual requirements. [6]

Quitting abruptly is likely to cause withdrawal symptoms. However, it is unlikely to be dangerous, so a gradual reduction is not always necessary, and some people may be able to quit entirely without the need for a cessation plan. [4]

Is nicotine safe to withdraw from at home?

Yes, it is often safe to withdraw from nicotine at home without professional intervention. However, it is often recommended to speak to a professional before reducing or stopping nicotine use, particularly after many years of heavy use. Professionals can provide support and advice on cessation and managing withdrawal symptoms and can prescribe nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or other medications if required. [6]

Withdrawal symptoms are unlikely to be severe or require treatment, so withdrawing at home can be safe. However, some people might prefer to utilize medicinal or therapeutic interventions to reduce unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. [2]

Those who wish to withdraw from nicotine at home might benefit from services such as websites, phone apps, remote treatment, or helplines to aid in quitting nicotine use. [3][4]

Nicotine detox treatment

Reducing or stopping nicotine use can be challenging, although is often not dangerous or life-threatening. Several techniques and tips can be utilized to make the detox and withdrawal process easier, including: [2][3][4]

  • Listing reasons: Many people find it helpful to write a list of reasons for wanting to stop smoking or using nicotine products. This might include health reasons, such as reduced risks of cardiac issues and cancer, improved fitness, reduced stress, and improved fertility, along with financial and social benefits.

  • Recognizing and avoiding triggers: It can be very difficult to stop smoking when surrounded by others who smoke or when facing triggering situations such as certain places or times that are associated with smoking. Recognizing triggering situations can help in managing these cravings and avoiding unhelpful situations. 

  • Planning how to manage cravings: Cravings commonly occur for several weeks or months following smoking cessation, so it can be helpful to think of ways to manage them. This might include distractions such as activities to keep hands busy, having things to chew, or hobbies to engage in. 

  • Calming exercises: Relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, going for a walk, or taking a bath, can help reduce the emotional effects of nicotine withdrawal and can be a good distraction from cravings and triggers. 

  • Reducing caffeine intake: Caffeine can worsen nicotine withdrawal symptoms and can contribute to feelings of anxiety, so it can be beneficial to reduce caffeine intake when stopping nicotine use. 

Professional support may include: [3][6][7]

  • Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT): NRT products include patches, lozenges, gum, inhalators, and nasal spray. Some can be bought over the counter while others require a prescription. They can help reduce cravings and prevent smoking during cessation.

  • Therapy: Psychological therapies can help reduce addictive behaviors and manage emotional symptoms that occur alongside or because of nicotine cessation.

  • Alternative therapies: Alternative therapies, such as hypnosis and acupuncture, have been found to be beneficial in nicotine cessation for some patients. 

  • Antidepressants: Doctors might prescribe antidepressants to help reduce mental health symptoms such as low mood and anxiety. Bupropion, a type of antidepressant, can also help with cessation as it can reduce addictive behavior.