Every October Public Health England runs Stoptober as part of the One You campaign with the aim of helping people quit smoking. The 28-day challenge sees thousands of people breaking up with their bad habit thanks to the free support available.
If you can stop smoking for 28 days, you’re five times more likely to quit for good – so how can we help you or those around you who are trying to ditch the cigarettes? Each week throughout October we will post an article to help, encourage or raise awareness of the struggle to be a fighter and put down the lighter.
One of the biggest challenges for smokers looking to quit is nicotine withdrawal. Withdrawal of any substance - be it caffeine, nicotine or the harder stuff – can be a distressing experience, triggering a host of physical and psychological symptoms. Everyone will experience withdrawal differently and those that quit cold turkey are likely to experience worse symptoms than those that gradually cut down. However, quitting cold turkey significantly increases your chances of abstaining from smoking in the long run so we’ve put together six points to help you or a loved one trying to quit smoking this Stoptober.
That little voice that urges you to pop outside for a cigarette is actually the nicotine receptors in our brain crying out for their next fix. When they’re deprived of nicotine, the brain no longer releases dopamine – the feel-good hormone - a physiological response to the sudden deprivation. Cravings typically last for five to 10 minutes and they will be uncomfortable, try to wait them out and remind yourself they will pass.
The constant snacking and weight gain
It’s real and it’s about more than replacing cigarettes with food. When you smoke, the nicotine triggers a release of glucose, altering our insulin response. As a result, if you stop smoking suddenly, you will experience a drop in blood sugar and that’s when you’ll find yourself reaching for the carbs and sweets to satiate this sudden and inexplicable hunger. We hate to say it, but those that quit smoking cold turkey gain on average of 10 pounds in the first three months. Make sure you’re prepared with healthy snacks and eating a balanced diet to help manage those sugar cravings!
One of the most common side effects of nicotine withdrawal is disturbed sleep, from insomnia to needing extra sleep during the day. This is due to the irregular release of dopamine which is needed to regulate our sleep patterns. Studies also show that REM (rapid eye movement and the deepest sleep stage) can be affected resulting in a lack of quality sleep.
That pesky cough
As odd as it may seem to develop a cough after you quit smoking, this is actually a sign that your lungs are starting to heal – not getting worse. That’s because when you smoke, the lining of your lungs flatten out and become immobilised. When you quit, normal function starts to return and begins pushing toxic deposits out of the lungs to be coughed up.
Some people experience mild fever, sinusitis, coughing and body aches which is simply your body reacting to an unfamiliar state. Quitting suddenly triggers an immune response in much the same way our bodies would respond to bacteria or a virus it considers abnormal. It will only last a couple of days so stick with it.
Stress and irritation are common in the early days of nicotine withdrawal, which once again, comes back to the irregularity of the hormonal and central nervous system. This can cause short-term physiological changes increasing blood pressure, heart rate, memory problems and difficulty concentrating. It can also cause extreme changes in mood including sudden and irrational outbursts. Be patient with yourself or those trying to give up – they don’t mean it.
Quitting cold turkey isn’t for everyone. Nicotine withdrawal can be intense but it won’t last forever and if you’re prepared, you can manage the symptoms and your health will begin to improve as soon as 20 minutes after your last cigarette.