Coping with nicotine withdrawal is probably the biggest hurdle anyone quitting smoking faces. Anyone who succeeded in quitting smoking will likely mention they felt irritable, distracted, and even physically sick.
It can go like this – a smoker decides that today is the day they quit and throw away their last pack of cigarettes. They remain confident and excited for the first few hours, but unfortunately become so overwhelmed by withdrawal symptoms and nausea that they race to the closest Woolies in a panic.
Relapse is very common among smokers. Even long-term ex-smokers are still at a high risk of lighting up another cigarette.
After a few hours, your body will notice you don’t have enough nicotine in your system – the addictive chemical it has depended on for such a long time – leading to cravings and withdrawals. But, after a few weeks of enduring withdrawals, you’ll feel better as these melt away.
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It might sound like rough patches will always be a part of anyone’s quit journey. Fortunately, research has helped the medical industry find ways to relieve smokers of withdrawal symptoms.
One way is to introduce small amounts of nicotine in the form of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or nicotine vaping products (NVPs) from pharmacies. Another is by changing your lifestyle and habits for the better.
In this post, we’ll look at the various coping strategies available to any motivated smoker looking to finally kick the habit.
Using Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)
You’ve probably heard of NRTs and seen pharmacies and supermarkets stocked with patches, lozenges, gums and inhalers.
NRT products work by introducing small nicotine amounts into your system. This allows your body to gradually wean off nicotine, reducing the intensity of withdrawals and cravings you might experience.
These tools for quitting can come in the form of gums, lozenges, nasal sprays, and inhalers. Yes, a special type of gum can help with strong nicotine withdrawals.
NRTs are available over-the-counter, but we do recommend working with a professional counsellor. Qualified GPs, such as the bulk-billed telehealth counsellors at Smokefree Clinic, can create a personalised recovery plan for you and NRT products to increase your chance of success.
The effectiveness of NRT products in helping you quit depends on someone who can guide you through your quitting journey. We highly recommend working with a GP so that you won’t get lost in the haze.
Consider Using Nicotine Vaping Products (NVPs)
A second-line solution if NRTs don’t work for you are nicotine vaping products (NVPs). NVPs available through pharmacies are rigorously tested for inhalation safety, are locally insured, and are specifically designed to help you quit smoking and wean off nicotine with minimal withdrawals.
While NRT products curb your cravings with low amounts of nicotine, they aren’t effective in replacing your old habits and gestures. NVPs also deliver small doses of nicotine, but importantly, they imitate the hand-to-mouth gesture and inhalation you’ve become accustomed to with smoking, and are designed to be used whenever you would ordinarily smoke a cigarette without the harms that come from inhaling cigarette smoke.
Even if they’re a second-line solution, NVPs from pharmacies may gain wider acceptance in the future. According to the latest Cochrane Review, there is now high-certainty evidence that nicotine e-cigarettes are more effective than NRTs in helping people quit smoking. So, if NRTs don’t work for you, consider asking your GP to prescribe NVPs.
Avoiding What Makes You Want to Smoke
The best way not to smoke is to avoid what urges you to smoke. These cues differ for each smoker. For instance, some smokers consume cigarettes and alcoholic drinks simultaneously.
If you don’t know them yet, learn to identify your smoking triggers. Is it whenever you drink or have dinner with your friends? Is it hand-in-hand with your morning coffee? Consider avoiding (or adjusting) these situations until after you’ve weaned yourself off smoking.
Stressful situations are also common triggers for most people to light up a cigarette. They feel relief and lower anxiety after nicotine enters their system. Unfortunately, this creates a dependence on the cigarette that’s hard to shake off.
Simply put, try to avoid what makes you feel anxious or stressed during your first two weeks or month of quitting. During this time, your GP and support group can discuss various ways to deal with these feelings without smoking a cigarette.
Keeping Your Mouth Busy
Speaking of avoiding what makes you want to smoke, keep your hands and your mouth busy. The hand-to-mouth gesture of every smoker is enough to trigger cravings.
Most people trying to quit choose gum or candy as a way to deal with their oral fixation. Unfortunately, this isn’t a healthy choice as both have sugar, another addictive substance that can cause health problems later.
We highly recommend going for healthy snacks and sugarless gum. You can chop various bits of vegetables like carrots and celery to chew on. Another good alternative is a handful of trail mix every time you crave a cigarette, or a tall glass of water down the hatch.
Getting More Physically Active
The lungs of a smoker are in poor condition, but anyone quitting can still get themselves back into shape.
Physical activity can be tough and challenging for smokers. You can imagine your first 15-minute brisk walking or jogging activity to feel like a huge slog. But, if you stick with a fitness routine, withdrawals and cravings become easier to manage.
Challenging your body to overcome its limits releases endorphins, a chemical that feels pleasurable and reduces feelings of pain and stress. Endorphins give you that good feeling that washes over you whenever you win something or get a promotion at work.
You can imagine the good feeling you’d get fighting back against withdrawals and cravings if you keep challenging yourself to get physically better.
Creating a Support System
Motivated smokers who want to quit have two types of support systems helping them. One is NRT and nicotine vaping products with the help of a GP’s counselling. Another is their family, friends, and a supportive network.
Many successful quitters owe it to themselves and their support system for aiding them during their most difficult times. It has been proven that a solid support system gives quitters the strongest chance of stopping smoking once again.
To create your support system, tell your friends and family that you’re kicking the habit. Tell them that you’ve enlisted the help of a GP (hopefully you’ve done this) and ask for their support throughout your difficult journey. If they smoke, ask them not to give you a cigarette or light up while you’re around.
If someone disagrees with your decision to stop smoking, or tends to make things even more difficult with teasing or not respecting you by smoking around you, remember that it’s okay to temporarily distance yourself from anyone who doesn’t support your wellness.
Consider joining a community that empathises with you and understands exactly what you’re going through. Many organisations and communities are dedicated to ensuring smokers have a “buddy” or community to talk to whenever they feel overwhelmed by withdrawals and cravings.
There’s no way to completely avoid nicotine withdrawal symptoms, but there are ways to alleviate them and keep you on the right track.
Coping with nicotine withdrawal can be much easier by using NRTs and NVPs, avoiding your triggers, and having a support system that believes you can quit the habit. We recommend working with a GP who can help you on your quit journey, such as counsellors from Smokefree Clinic.
Aside from counselling, Smokefree Clinic gives you access to many medically reviewed and trustworthy resources that can inform and aid you in your path to wellness, so have a look around!
If you’re ready to get started, Smokefree can connect you to bulk-billing Australian healthcare professionals who excel in helping patients quit smoking for good, including using responsible vaping products where appropriate.
Click here to book your bulk-billed telehealth consultation with an Australian healthcare professional and quit smoking today.