The Effects of Physical Withdrawal

Anxiety, Anger, Irritability, Impatience and Restlessness
These are normal temporary effects of physical withdrawal from nicotine. Our life long roller coaster cycles of rising and falling blood nicotine levels are now ending. Your mind is in the process of resuming control of the more than 200 neurochemicals that nicotine had directly and indirectly taken hostage, including select adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin pathways. In resuming control the brain is making sensitivity re-adjustments associated with mood, reward, stimulation and anxiety. In trying to protect your mind from the deadly pesticide nicotine it actually desensitized important neurochemical circuits by reducing receptor sites and diminishing the number of transporters.

If a nicotine user remains 100% nicotine free for just 72 hours they’ll likely begin to notice the underlying current of recovery anxieties easing off as their brain’s neurons begin bathing in nicotine-free oxygen rich blood serum and the brain’s sensitivity adjustments begin bearing fruit. Although our quickly healing body is now 100% nicotine free and most of the normal symptoms of adjustment have reached their peak, it will take 10 days to two weeks before our mind and body become fully accustomed to functioning with the absence of nicotine and many of the other 4,000+ chemicals present in each dip.

The early healing is rapid. Deep breathing with mind relaxation, together with a bit of physical activity, can help diminish anxieties. Adjustment of caffeine intake and limiting sugars can also have a calming effect. Acidic fruit juices, like cranberry, may help accelerate extraction of the blood’s remaining nicotine and decease the maximum of 72 hours required for the body to completely metabolize all nicotine.

There is a detailed cessation effects study by Marcia M. Ward, entitled “Self-reported abstinence effects in the first month after chewing cessation,” published in Addictive Behaviors, 26 (2001) at pages 311-327. Its findings are fascinating. For example, it may be difficult to believe but, on average, anxieties peak on day one (within 24 hours) and within two weeks return to almost pre-cessation levels. Regarding anxiety, be sure you understand why ex-Chewers only need half the amount of caffeine as Chewers. Irritability, often anxiety’s aftermath, seems to peak at about 48 hours while restlessness peaks at 72 hours. According to the study, both begin hovering back around pre-cessation levels within two weeks.

Anger apparently peaks for the average quitter at about 48 hours (day 2) and within 72 hours is beginning to return to almost pre-cessation levels. Amazingly, nicotine assumed command of the mind’s adrenaline circuitry and a small release was part of our high. When taking back control, anger and fear (fight or flight) are our means of releasing adrenaline. It isn’t unusual to find yourself intentionally attempting to induce adrenaline releases by promoting conflict or feeling fearful about permanently altering your mind’s sense of normal from “nicotine normal” back to “you.”

While awaiting re-sensitization, find ways to vent frustrations and release adrenaline that won’t cause needless hurt to family members, loved ones, friends or co-workers. Walk, run, vent into a pillow, find a punching bag, bend a piece of steel, or even bite your lip during early withdrawal if that’s what it takes. Discuss your feelings with family, friends or within your support system.

Following serious challenge, write yourself a loving letter that can be read a year from now that accurately describes what chemical withdrawal and early psychological recovery were like and why you were more than willing to endure it. The mind does not remember pain or the bad times. In fact, you memories of “Glory Week” will rapidly fade within just a few short weeks. Give yourself the present gift of future memory. It may be just the motivation you’ll need to avoid temptation tomorrow.

Occupy your time. Try enjoying your favorite activity, sport or hobby. Celebrate each hour of freedom. Keep a positive attitude and review your reasons for beginning this journey. If you need a break, briefly clear your mind of all negative thoughts and chatter by taking slow deep breaths while focusing exclusively upon your favorite person, place, or object. Don’t allow the seeds of false reasoning to fester and infect your logic or desire. Let intelligence serve as courage as you break free from years of slavery to the dictates of a chemical master.

Time Perception Distortion
Nicotine Chewers have long known that at times during early withdrawal time itself seems almost to stand still. The first two weeks can seem like some of the longest days of your entire life. A new 2003 study suggests that time perception distortion may possibly be a nicotine dependency recovery symptom experienced by all Chewers.

Although a subconsciously triggered crave episode will not last longer than three minutes, as you probably already know, those minutes can feel like hours. Whether dealing with a subconscious crave trigger or even consciously fixating on a thought of wanting to chew, be sure and look at a clock or watch so that you can gain honest perspective in helping correct your impaired perception of time.

All of us are capable of handling a few brief moments of anxiety – all of us – but we need help in gaining an accurate estimation of how long we’ve endured any challenge or this symptom may falsely paint recovery as being beyond our ability to handle. Don’t let time distortion deprive you of your dream of again comfortably embracing life as you.

When time distortion is combined with a destructive “big bite” recovery philosophy that insists upon measuring success in terms of quitting forever, it is often a recipe for relapse. Instead, adopt a ” one day at a time ” philosophy that sees and treats each challenge and each day of freedom and healing as the full and complete victory they reflect. What good is holding a victory party after you’re dead? Celebrate life and the victory your latest victory.

Inability to Concentrate or a Foggy Mind
The feeling that your concentration is not as good or that your mind now lives in a fog is experienced by almost two-thirds of recovering nicotine addicts to one degree or another. The return of our clearness of mind and concentration levels may seem gradual but within two weeks most begin experiencing concentration levels very close to those of never-Chewers.

Poor concentration, focus and thought can also be associated with low blood sugar. It’s important to understand that nicotine force-fed us stored fats and sugars with each new chew. It’s why so many of us could skip breakfast and/or lunch and yet not feel hungry. Chewing nicotine caused our brain to release adrenaline which in turn prepared us for the “fight or flight mode” by pumping stored fats and sugars into our blood stream (the bad artery clogging fats).

Once we stop putting nicotine into our body the adrenaline fat feedings end. If you continue to attempt skipping meals, your blood sugar will plummet along with your concentration, as nicotine is no longer your spoon. It isn’t necessary to eat more food but only to spread your normal daily food intake out more evenly over your entire day. Women would be well advised to put a very small amount of fuel into their stomach about every three hours and men at least every five. During only the first 72 hours (as it can be fattening) natural fruit juices (cranberry is excellent) will not only aid with helping stabilize blood sugar but may actually help accelerate the rate at which nicotine metabolizes just a wee bit.

Even if you can’t correct the entire problem by stabilizing blood sugar and you’re forced to push yourself a bit more than normal in order to live up to your old expectations, concentration improvement appears to be fairly steady and relief won’t be long in coming. You may also want to temporarily reduce or avoid alcohol use, which reduces brain oxygen and obviously impairs concentration. Brisk walks or other physical exercise and slow deep breathing will deliver additional focus giving oxygen to your mind. Remember, life-giving oxygen is a far healthier brain stimulant than any addictive substance. Trust in you. It’s only temporary.

Flash – a May 2002 medical study indicates that heavy nicotine use may actually destroy brain cells and diminish concentration and memory. If true, the very temporary concentration effects associated with adjusting to the absence of nicotine might better be seen as a very welcome occurrence.

Feeling Tired or Fatigued
Our body is shedding the effects of being under years of dependence upon a powerful stimulant and the process of withdrawal and readjustment can be physically and emotionally exhausting. We’re also experiencing changes in basic metabolism as heart rate and respiration have rapidly returned to normal. Time distortion, awaiting that next crave episode, using anger or fear to try and generate adrenaline that we sense is missing, possible sleep disruption, it isn’t at all unusual to feel a bit drained during the first few days but after that you should begin feeling much better with more energy than you may have felt in years.

Just as recovering from any other illness, the body and mind need time to heal. Moderate exercise can act as a natural pick-me-up and also help us sleep better. We need to allow ourselves additional rest, extended sleep or even a nap. “Glory Week” can consume tremendous energy.

It is not normal to continue feeling tired or fatigued three weeks after starting your journey and there are many potential causes ranging from improper diet, blood sugar problems, medications in need of possible adjustment after ending the use of the 4,000+ chemicals present in tobacco chew (including nicotine), an underlying condition that was being masked and hidden by those same 4,000 chemicals, or by other coincidental conditions that just happened to occur and have nothing whatsoever to do with ending tobacco or nicotine use. Also, see depression below.

Trouble Sleeping or Insomnia
Nicotine is a powerful drug that affects subconscious thought, brain waves, the depth of sleep, and can even affect dreams. The disturbance of “normal” sleep patterns can occur during physical withdrawal or new patterns may be established as you return to your body’s true level of need. You may find that you don’t need nearly as much sleep as you did while chewing. Are you still tired or just sleeping less?

It’s important to understand that nicotine Chewers need twice the amount of caffeine in order to achieve the same effect as a non-Chewer. Nicotine indirectly causes caffeine to metabolize (to be depleted) at a rate twice that of non-Chewers. If you’re a heavy caffeine user who attempts to continue using caffeine at the same amount as you did while using nicotine, you may find yourself not only having difficulty sleeping but probably climbing every wall in sight. Here’s a Freedom message thread discussing the issue in far more depth.

Relaxation through mind clearing and slow deliberate breathing can help induce sleep. Mental relaxation can be as simple as slowly clearing your mind of all other thoughts by focusing exclusively on a single object or color. If your sleep continues to be disrupted and is affecting your health, safety or performance then turn to your physician or pharmacist for assistance. Don’t allow sleep to be your mind’s junkie excuse to destroy your quest to meet and become comfortable as “you” again.

Slight Sore Throat
Years and years of chewing while ingesting hundreds and hundreds of chemicals (every twenty to thirty minutes) has irritated our throat, damaged or destroyed millions of cells, has deeply marinated tissues in tobacco, and has caused them to become numbed to the tremendous harm being inflicted. As our tissues begin to heal, they may feel temporarily irritated as the cells slowly renew, our tissues begin to breathe and natural moisture levels gradually return. Cool liquids and juices may provide a bit of soothing. Hard sugarless candy or cough-drops may also generate moisture, provide soothing or give relief from minor discomfort.

Bad breath, Nasty Tastes and Bleeding Gums
Picturing the slow healing of deeply marinated gum, cheek and tongue tissues impregnated by years of thousands of passing chemicals may be more accurate than you think. Depending on how long we chewed it could take some time for these tastes and odors to totally dissipate. Cell healing, time, oxygen rich blood, and fluids will keep mouth, nasal, throat and respiratory tissues on the road to maximum recovery. Brushing a bit more frequently and mouthwash should help control the odors that will continue to be released from both dead and recovering cells.

As for gum bleeding, it’s not unusual to be a bit overzealous and brush too much but also be aware that your gums are experiencing some rather amazing healing all on their own. Surprisingly, it is normal for an ex-Chewer’s gums to be more prone to bleeding during recovery, not less. Nicotine constricts blood vessels diminishing blood flow, which, according to a January 2003 study, may account for Chewers having thicker gum tissues. According to an April 2004 study, gingival (gum) blood flow rate was “significantly higher at 3 days” and within 5 days the liquid sticky plasma proteins normally released by healthy gums (gingival crevicular fluid) had significantly increased and within 2 weeks were comparable to those of non-Chewers. But if it takes a bit of bleeding to begin gradually reversing the risk of experiencing 220% greater tooth loss than a nonsocial then so be it. If concerned call your dentist.

Headaches
Changing brain oxygen and chemical levels, added anxiety or tension, possible temporary sleep disruption, increased caffeine levels, or diet changes can all result in headaches. According to the Ward “abstinence effects” study, 33% of Chewers reported having headaches immediately PRIOR to quitting. Interestingly, those reporting headaches peaked on day three (72 hours) at 44%, dropped to 17% on day seven, and had declined to a low of just 11% on day fourteen.

Relaxation, slow deep breathing, extra rest, mind clearing with thought focusing exercises, a warm bath or shower, or exercise may help relieve tension and often brings relief. Aspirin or other headache relievers are available but shouldn’t be taken on an empty stomach. If you are a fairly heavy caffeine drinker make sure you understand that ex-Chewers only need half as much caffeine as Chewers in order to get the same effect, otherwise your caffeine overdose may actually cause your headache.

Stomach Pain, Nausea, Constipation or Gas
Nausea was also examined in the Ward “abstinence effects” study. Again, although only averages, 16% of participants reported nausea on day one (as compared to 2% at pre-cessation baseline), 11% on day three, 16% on day seven, 9% at two weeks, and 4% on day twenty-eight. Cessation related constipation was the focus of a November 2003 study. It found that one in six quitters develop constipation and that for about one in eleven quitters the problem can be severe. The study also found that constipation levels peaked at about two weeks. If you develop constipation concerns during recovery consult your pharmacist or physician and obtain relief.

There are a host of digestive disorders, including cancers, associated with chewing. Intestinal and bowel movements can be temporarily affected while they adjust to the absence of nicotine. Stress, anxiety or postpartum nicotine depression can cause our stomach or GI area to generate pain. Tissues numbed and deadened by years of nicotine use are healing. It isn’t uncommon to experience temporary pain. We can aid the healing process by drinking at least eight glasses of water each day. Increasing the amount of leafy vegetables, roughage, whole grains, bran or prunes in our diet will aid our intestines in cleansing and in moving things along. Moderate exercise may also help with circulation and movement. If symptoms persist, we need to consult our physician.

© WhyQuit.Com 2000, 2013
The original article has been modified to be more relevant for dippers and chewers.

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18 Comments

  1. Pingback: How Withdrawals Affect the Body? | Pathways Real Life Recovery

  2. I’m on day #2 of quitting. I have been chewing Copenhagen products for the better part of 25 years.
    My advice is to NEVER start!
    I am quitting because my wife does not want me to die from cancer. And quite frankly neither do I.

  3. I’ve been a dipper for 7 years. I started “in the field” while I was in the army. The last 2 years I’ve dipped a can a day or more. I’m now on day 16 nicotine free! Unfortunately I still am having a very difficult time maintaining focus and motivation. It’s killing my performance at work, which in a straight commission job, can be detrimental. I’m thinking about dipping again, so I can concentrate and focus. Helpful ideas?

    • Brendan – while the idea of going back to dip to improve your concentration sounds appealing, I can assure you that you’d not ultimately be happy with that decision. At this point (16 days in) you’re free. You no longer have nicotine flowing through your body. If you go back… even for a day… when you quit again you’ll have to go through all the BS again. Keep fighting!

    • Never get back. it will generate a guilt in you who will die you faster.Just take it easy..divert yourself towards nature. drink lots of water and juices.

  4. Hang in there Brendan! I chewed Copenhagen for a long time and just kicked it 8 days ago. It’s one of the hardest things I have ever done but I’m going to make it.
    Tell you what, I have chewed more gum in this past week than I have in the past 3 years.
    Believe me I know what it’s like being in your position and you just have to fight through the urges. You got this!

  5. Oh my shit!!!! 8 hours in……until right now I have not gone more than a 4 hour time period except sleep in the last 17 years without a fatty in my lip. this is the most insane thing I have ever experienced in my life. Head is floating, jaw is throbbing, jaw socket feels like someone stabbed it with a spoon…….and just threw up. Ive never done heroin but I feel like what it looks like those addicts feel like when you see them on tv.

    I swear if my son ever puts this shit in his lip I’m just gonna break his nose and save him the trouble. I’m keeping a “diary” of sorts as im going through this just in case….I’m sure the day will come when mom finds that can that opened up in the wash and ruined everything.

  6. Just finished my first week of not chewing! Feel kinda good but is it normal to have a little bleeding?

    • Hey Mike – yes, a little bleeding in your gums is pretty typical. Make sure you’re brushing / flossing regularly and stick with it as you move toward your quit. If you’re like me your gums are recovering from DECADES of abuse. Hang in there!

  7. 8 days now. head pounds feels like someone is tap dancing on my head and mind is foggy. Sore throat, I have been managing with popsicles. Does anyone have a specific brand of substitute they prefer?

    • Congrats on 8 days of freedom! Which brand of alternative I’d suggest would depend on which brand you’re trying to emulate / what your former brand was. There are reviews / coupons here: http://www.killthecan.org/your-quit/smokeless-alternatives/ Let me know what you’re looking for an I’ll try to point you in the right direction.

    • You can do it Raven I used dip for 25 to 30 years and quit in February of 2014 using nicotine patch I am going on 6 months tobacco free and feel great and don’t miss it one bit you can do it to just put your mind to it.

  8. Rajkumar

    Two weeks stopped chewing tobacco and smoking feel great cravings r still there.

  9. Only other people that have done this can explain anything of value. My first full day after seven years while actually trying. I have way more energy than I’m used to, but I’m also recovering from shoulder surgery. I always made gaining weight an excuse, well during my shoulder surgery I can’t make that excuse anymore. F this nicotine bitch, don’t let anything rule you!

  10. I am on Day 16 after I quit. I tried quitting before like most of the people here, I think the most I lasted was about a Month, pain, bleeding and high blood pressure are great motivators to engage in quitting. It makes no sense to do that horrible and disgusting pile of junk, but yet we did it. I am experiencing all the symptoms and now the benefits of being free of this carcinogen, but as hundreds, perhaps tens of hundreds of us trying to quit, I can only wonder, how many are just getting started into this Disgusting, harmful and possibly fatal habit.

  11. I quite for six months and started back last year. Idk why. Any way I dipped copenhagen LCS and I went to skole peach and after bout 3 months my chest in the middle started feeling tight and hurting my heart area started having a “swollen” feeling and annoying small irritating pain. My throat also has a tight feeling and its hard for me to breath, I feel like I’m breathing through a straw. I can breath through my nose cause it feels like i m not getting enough. I woke up one night to me not breathing I got scared and way anyone else have this happen? Also I quit the peach and went back to cope for a week and when I got home I got some peach dipped it there weekend and now I been dealing with this sore chest can’t breath heart hurts thing again I quit dipping yesterday when I ran out and I said I’m not getting more. Been going since around 6:30pm yesterday and haven’t had a dip yet and my heart don’t hurt now isk its crazy but I still have the sore chest thing and my throat feels a little swollen and I feel like I’m suffocating

    • I am not a Doctor but I went through the same chest pains and hard to breathe episodes. The chest pain I experienced was due to Acid Reflux and it occurs over night, but the pain is felt throughout the day and part of the evenings. The sore throat and tightening could be a mild infection that we all get sometimes. also might be due to stress. What I did is purchase a blood pressure cuff from the drug store, they have the digital ones and you only have to press one button to get your blood pressure number. That is the very real damage that the DIp does to your body, it increases your blood pressure a lot and that is why we experience the dizziness and all that jazz. As you go through your quit, keep reading your blood pressure and you will see that it normalizes after a week or 2.
      I Hate going to the doctor, but I would recommend it very highly for you and all who read this Post, as it would give you peace of mind on all these symptoms you are experiencing, I hope that Helps. Laterz.

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