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Side Effects of Quitting Smoking

The perils and highly negative impact of smoking on a smoker’s physical health, psychological health and overall appearance and wellbeing are well known to many people (at least the more common ones), but, much less has been written about the negative unintended consequences associated with the process of quitting smoking (even if they are almost all temporary and self-correcting). In this posting addresses a number of these negative side effects.


Probably all smokers have heard at least some commentary regarding the physical symptoms associated (over the short-run) with stopping smoking. We have all heard stories about friends or colleagues who have quit, or experienced them personally, and how their disposition and mood became less pleasant. These negative manifestations include the quitters being more irritable, quicker to anger, more anxious, and just less desirable to be around. Some of these effects are in reality related to the physical withdrawal symptoms of eliminating nicotine from the body and from the smoker’s nervous system. These effects tend to diminish over the course of a few weeks as the physical effects of nicotine in the body tend to be “flushed out” over the course of about a week. Of course the general malaise that some quitters experience, and those of us who are close to them see for ourselves, may linger for a somewhat longer time than this.


The more problematic negative side effects may be those associated with the psychological withdrawal symptoms related to quitting smoking. Smoking is a habit that is frequently initiated by a psychosocial cue that triggers the “light-up” process a product of habituation caused by operant conditioning. That is, we tend to smoke in certain situations, certain contexts and in certain social venues, and when we do this repetitively the mind, that is the brain, starts to make an association between these “psychosocial cues,” (e.g. having a cup of coffee, having an alcoholic drink, being on the telephone, going to the bathroom, driving a car, after sexual relations, and so forth). Over time a powerful association is formed whereby when the psychosocial cue is experienced we have a virtually automatic response of lighting-up a cigarette. This conditioning may be quite hard to disrupt and break, for many smokers it is more problematic than breaking the addiction to nicotine.


The existence and power of this psychological dependency is one important reason why quitting smoking “cold-turkey” is so very difficult. The smoker can cleanse the body of nicotine in a fairly short time (although the brain’s desire for the “reward” that nicotine offers may linger for a much longer time than this), but, the smoker may have a much more difficult time breaking the psychological dependency based on the response to the psychosocial cues described  above, and for this, many smokers need, and can benefit greatly by assistance from a counselor, a quit smoking program, a quit smoking clinic or the use of a mobile smoking cessation app.


There are many research studies and other references to the myriad of negative side effects associated with quitting smoking, some of them, related as follows.


On the website, “smokersblog.org,” the site says that, “we all know that nicotine is a very addictive substance found in cigarettes. Nicotine binds to the different areas of your body, including the brain’s receptors, giving you that pleasant sensation every time you smoke.  Once your body gets used to it, it can be very difficult to come off. And since you’re cutting the supply of nicotine to your body, withdrawal symptoms will start to appear.”


As mentioned previously the person quitting smoking often becomes “irritable, depressed or anxious.” The smoker may feel “on edge” and unable to focus.”
Also during withdrawal the effects on the body may cause the smoker to “experience difficulty in going to sleep and the quality of your sleep might be extremely poor. This is quite normal, keep in mind that this is just going to be temporary.”


As alluded to earlier, the side effects are temporary and will start to subside in several days. They may largely be diminished and over with after about two weeks. The quitter must keep in mind that the withdrawal symptoms pass, and while annoying and bothersome, they are not totally debilitating.


Another excellent website with valuable information about the side effects of quitting smoking is “the quitsmokinghelp.com” site. This site offered some excellent guidance related to the side effects of quitting on our mind, that is, on our brain. As this site points out, the smoker does not initially become a smoker due to addiction to nicotine, smoking, at least in the early stage of habit formation, is a choice and a decision that we make for whatever the conscious, or subconscious, reasons that  prompted us to take that first smoke.


Some of the mental effects of quitting smoking cited by this site are “mild depression and sadness because you can no longer use cigarettes as a quick fix or a stress relief. As well as that, “anxiety is often associated with the perspective of staying completely nicotine-free for a lifetime.”


Other frequent negative effects include, “anger and short-temper usually appear because of the changes that the body goes through, when it gradually becomes nicotine free. Your reactions are not explained solely by the deprivation of nicotine, but also because of the stress on the system.”


Also smokers find that when they are in the process of quitting they find that “boredom is the most common of quit smoking side effects because you are forced to break the habit, and there remain gaps to be filled up throughout the day.” As well as that, “people who use smoking as an aid to deal with negative emotions such as sadness, loneliness, depression and so on, will experience more intense psychological quit smoking side effects, because cigarettes won’t be there for ‘support’ any more.”


The important point to keep in mind is the old adage that “this too shall pass,” that is, the symptoms ands the negative feelings are temporary, they will pass, and, keeping in mind the perspective that these negative effects will diminish and go away, can help to sustain our will and resolve to quit smoking for good, for life.


The website, “Drgranny.com” has a nice concise list of symptoms and negative effects associated with quitting smoking. As it provides a good review, is shown in its entirety.


“If you are determined to quit smoking, following is a review of possible side effects of quitting smoking. Some may experience a few of them while some do not have any.

1. You may feel sad as well as mildly depressed because of the changes in your daily activities and there is no familiar feel of cigars in your mouth and hands.


2. You might feel bored. This is the most common side effect of stopping smoking because smoking takes plenty of your time every day. Starting with new daily chores for replacing smoking may be effective to beneficial for continuing smoking cessation.


3. Irritability, anger and anxiety are not permanent side effects of stopping smoking. The withdrawal time for nicotine is different for each person but the initial 72 hours without nicotine is the toughest time. Try to reward yourself by watching a movie, getting a massage or going out on a trip.


4. There are several physical side effects along with emotional effects. You may have mild tremors, headache, feeling very hot or cold. These are the usual symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.


5. Increase in cough, wheezing and sinus discharge indicates that your body is trying to detoxify nicotine.


6. One may observe change in sleep patterns also. Some report insomnia, frequent awakenings and night sweats.


7. Bloating, indigestion and constipation can also accompany smoking cessation. Nicotine is a strong stimulant and your body quickly learns to regulate the digestion process without any stimulants naturally.


8. Bleeding and gum sensitivity, changes to the taste and taste of smell are possible side effects of nicotine gum.


9. Tiredness and feelings of discomfort are the most common side effects of stopping smoking.


10 . As nicotine is a strong drug, you may experience certain pains that you have never experienced before in the chest, muscles and virtually anywhere.”


Negative side effects are a mix of both physical and psychological manifestations. While the list is long, and, may appear somewhat daunting to the smoker who intends, or hopes to quit, those in the process of quitting, or planning to quit, just keep in mind that the discomfort and the annoying, but not totally disabling effects, are temporary, they always pass. This knowledge may be just enough to sustain the smoker over this difficult withdrawal period.


The website,”Stoppingsmokingtips.com," makes clear that the initial withdrawal effects can start very quickly after a cigarette is smoked, until the next cigarette is consumed. If the smoker is quitting for good the effects will persist for some time. The site says, however, “the peak time for the quitting smoking side effects to occur is the 2nd or 3rd day after smoking cessation, and that, “although these side effects can be bothersome, they are not insurmountable. You can overcome them with time and in fact, the longer you keep away from the cigarettes, the better you will feel, and the less these side effects will bother you.”


The site mentions the side effects below as commonly affecting the quitter. The list is shown below as reported on the website.

    * Irritability

    * Cravings to smoke

    * Anxiety

    * Hunger with increased appetite

    * Weight gain

    * Dizziness

    * Difficulty with concentration

    * Headaches

    * Fatigue and lethargy

    * Sleep disturbances – problems falling asleep, frightening dreams, nightmares, unprovoked awakening

    * Depression

    * Boredom

    * Cough

    * Runny nose

    * Bowel problems – constipation, wind and even diarrhea

    * Sore or dry mouth

    * Feeling tight in the chest


The website “Quitguide.com” says that “quitting can mess with the mind." Some of the possibilities that occur include the following and, I am relaying them as cited on the website:

    * Mild depression or sadness. There goes your best friend that you turned to in need. Tobacco was always handy to blot out your worries and give you your fix.

    * Anxiety. The jitters and fear of facing life without tobacco might try and overwhelm you.

    * Boredom and loneliness.


    As the website, “usabledt.com” says, becoming an ex-smoker is not without side effects. Nicotine is a highly addictive drug and the withdrawals can be intense. One can expect headaches, anxiety, nausea, and the worst, a craving for tobacco. It’s a chemical dependency, and without maintenance, the body reacts. The side effects are stressful and unpleasant, but they do fade away after just a few days and will be completely gone in just six months.”

    “The physical side effects should be treated as you would treat any other symptom. The mental symptoms are almost intolerable the first week, you will survive. You may feel clumsy or awkward, even accident prone. You may even exhibit infantile behavior and have a temper tantrum or two. This is why it’s important to tell people you are quitting, they will be tolerant, for awhile.”


    The website also makes clear that “depression is also a common short term effect.  Other side effects you can expect but are not limited to, “insomnia, vagueness, irritability, constipation, gas, cough, dry throat, nasal drip, dizziness, vertigo, fatigue, frustration, restlessness, tightness of the chest, and weight gain.”

    Another website called, “superhealthrelated.com” offers a concise summary listing a number of the physical and psychological negative side effects.
    The site says that, “the early physical signs of nicotine withdrawal include:


    * Dizziness and nausea

    * Upset stomach leading to loss of appetite

    * Severe headaches Various aches and pains

    * Coughing, wheezing, runny nose, sinus issues

    * Insomnia

    * Excessive sweating

    * Chills


Other side effects are non-physical, but, maybe even more problematic to live through and to overcome, they include, the following:


    * “Powerful craving to smoke, to the point of distraction

    * Loneliness and depression

    * Crabbiness or general moodiness

    * Nervousness and anxiety


    All of the sources cited above have a few things in common that the smoker who intends, or is in the process of quitting should keep in mind, specifically:


    * virtually all smokers experience some negative consequences associated with quitting smoking but, importantly, these effects are not completely debilitating for most and they are temporary for everyone

    * there are physical effects and psychological/emotionally-based effects  and the non-physical effects may be more persistent and somewhat more intractable to deal with

    * while almost everyone while experience some of the effects cited, few will experience them all, and the intensity of negative effects vary based on the strength and depth of the smokers habit and their addiction


Hopefully, by way of this posting the smoker who plans to quit will be prepared to experience negative side effects and this may forearm the smoker mentally to expect them and to be better able to persevere and move past the temporary effects to a final “solution” and elimination of their smoking habit.