Cravings and withdrawals

Withdrawal symptoms refer to the signs and symptoms that appear when a drug that causes physical dependence, for example nicotine is suddenly stopped or decreased in dosage. Physical withdrawal from nicotine is temporary, but it can be uncomfortable while it lasts. Understanding what to expect when you give up smoking and following the tips provided here for coping will help you move through this stage more easily.

The following list contains commonly reported symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Most people experience some of these, but rarely all of them. Remember everyone is different and most withdrawal symptoms return to normal within one month of giving up. Check with your doctor if you’re concerned about any symptom you’re having to giving up smoking, or if nicotine withdrawal symptoms persist.

Click on the links below to find out more about withdrawal symptoms.



Your craving for nicotine will peak at 3-5 minutes and will pass if you deal with it. This desire will weaken over 4-6 weeks.
Practice using the 4 Ds

  • Distract yourself by focusing on something else
  • Delay until the urge passes – usually within 3 to 5 minutes
  • Deep breathe 20 times
  • Drink a glass of cold water or fruit juice

There are treatments that can help reduce the intensity of these cravings. Find out more about treatments.


Moods, irritability and anxiety

You may have low moods, bad moods, increased anxiety or irritability when you give up smoking. These are temporary feelings and will get easier after the first four weeks. You may over react to things that normally wouldn’t bother you. This is normal. You are not used to coping with life without cigarettes and it may make you irritable.

Here are some coping strategies that you can learn:

  • Remind yourself that your choice to smoke or not to smoke is still there
  • Discover new ways of dealing with negative feelings rather than reaching for a cigarette
  • Remind yourself that the feeling is temporary; it will go away
  • Congratulate yourself for coping with life without smoking
  • Ask others to understand and be patient
  • Do things that make you feel good

How to relax and reduce stress

  • Any activity you enjoy can help you to relax and reduce stress
  • Physical activity can help – walking, jogging, cycling, dancing or swimming.
  • Listen to music, read, sew, woodwork, do a jigsaw or garden
  • Try a relaxation exercise
  • Regular deep breathing exercises x 20 slow breaths are a great way of relaxing and dealing with difficult situations


Sleep pattern

Your sleep pattern can take 2-3 weeks to settle. Reduce caffeine – coffee, tea, and cola. Exercise may also help. Relax before bedtime – read a book or have an aromatherapy bath. Redecorate your bedroom using the money you’ve saved.


Concentration levels and problem solving

You may find that your ability to concentrate or problem solve gets better or worse. Take extra time to do things. Make a ‘to do’ list. Organise your day by prioritising what you need to do.


Energy levels

You energy levels may increase in the first few days after you give up smoking. This is because more oxygen is getting into your blood stream and carbon monoxide has left your system.

Some people may have less energy for a while. You will normally feel better after the first few weeks.



About 10% of people who give up smoking will notice a change in their bowel habits. People who haven’t had a problem with constipation in the past may now experience it. To help deal with this, eat lots of fruit, fibre and vegetables, drink lots of water and exercise every day. It can take 2-3 weeks to settle. Your pharmacist may be able to recommend something to ease the problem.


Signs your body is getting better

Cough or sore throat - This usually gets worse before it gets better. It is caused by your body clearing the respiratory tract. Breathe in steam or sip water.

Mouth ulcers and dry mouth - This often happens in the first two weeks after giving up smoking. This is a sign that the blood supply to the lining of your mouth is improving.

Dizziness and headaches - These happen because more oxygen is reaching your brain. 
If you have dizziness and suffer from a heart complaint, talk to your doctor.

Tingling in hands or feet - This is caused by the increased oxygen supply in the blood to the limbs and is a positive sign that your body is recovering.



One of the first signs of improvement you may feel is in your breathing. This happens as more oxygen is available to your body and carbon monoxide is cleared out. You may feel fitter and be able to walk further and faster – stopping half way up the stairs may be a thing of the past. If you have asthma you may need less of your inhaler medications.

To make the most of your new breathing ability, try to increase your exercise such as walking, jogging, swimming, playing with your children or grandchildren.


Your weight

Most smokers fear that giving up smoking will lead them to put on weight. The average weight gain is around 5-10lbs. This fear of gaining weight prevents many smokers from trying to stop, while others stop and then relapse when they put on weight. Most of the weight you gain when you give up smoking is caused by an increase in calories. This will happen if you replace smoking with food. However, you can stay your usual weight if you eat sensibly and get more active.

  • Remind yourself that giving up is the most important thing you can do for your health.
  • Eat three well-balanced meals per day, snack only on healthy foods.
  • Keep low calorie snacks handy such as carrot sticks, celery and fruit.
  • Drink plenty of water and low calorie drinks.
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables.
  • Make a fruit salad each morning and keep it in the fridge.



You can confuse cravings for food with cravings for tobacco and vice versa. It’s important to eat three regular meals each day. If you feel hungry outside these meals, eat fruit or sip cold water.