Symptoms of Psychological Withdrawal
Cravings, Urges, Yearnings, Desires and Thoughts
The initial powerful cravings that overlay the up to 72 hours of abstinence needed to purge our blood of all nicotine are more creatures of conditioning than actual physical withdrawal. Our cravings are the mind’s psychological means of warning us that it’s time to ingest nicotine to avoid experiencing physical withdrawal (nervousness, irritability, grouchiness, tension, anger, rage, frustration, sweating, jitters, shaking, inability to concentrate and mind fog). Like Pavlov’s dogs, whom he conditioned to salivate upon the ringing of a bell, the nicotine addict’s mind has been conditioned to expect nicotine as soon as it begins to feel any discomfort associated with the onset of physical withdrawal. In response to falling nicotine levels, the habitual mind has been conditioned to intensify “desire” in order to cause us to ingest new nicotine and thereby avoid any discomfort. When we chewed, most of us received a gentle “desire” reminder every 20 to 30 minutes. If not satisfied, the desire would build and escalate in intensity to the point of becoming an influential urge or extremely demanding crave. Our mind has stored the means and manner by which it motivates us to ingest another hit of nicotine. Even after all nicotine has left our body (72 hours), our mind’s crave generator remains in tact and fully functional.
Our Time Triggers
The foundation for our mind’s knowledge of how to escalate the intensity of desire, to cause us to bring new nicotine into our body, is “time.” Although the subconscious mind is believed to be incapable of independent reasoning or judgment, our conscious mind has conditioned our subconscious to realize that time depletes our blood nicotine level and that the onset of discomfort can be satisfied with nicotine. When we feel a crave begin to escalate in intensity, it is simply our subconscious turning up the volume control that it has been conditioned to believe will bring the desired result. But in that the subconscious mind is a product of conditioning and not independent reasoning, if nicotine is not ingested after desire’s volume or intensity control is increased to maximum, the subconscious simply gives up and quits.
It is extremely important to understand that no subconsciously triggered crave episode will last longer than three minutes. But, as noted above under physical symptoms, time perception distortion appears to be an almost universal recovery symptom and the minutes can seem like hours. It’s important to look at a clock in order to reassure yourself as it often takes seconds to reach for nicotine and have one powerful chew destroy all your healing and investment in recovering the real “you.” This psychological mind warfare is the downfall of many as they begin to falsely believe that the only way to end the current crave is by means of another fix.
As the body’s nicotine level continues to fall during the 72 hours of physical withdrawal, our mind’s time trigger will continue to be revisited until all nicotine has left the body. It is then that true and complete reconditioning of our time trigger will occur as our physical symptoms begin subsiding and our mind becomes conditioned to realize that time will no longer produce new nicotine. Withdrawal’s peak occurs at or before the 72-hour mark. The average “starter” will experience approximately six desire attacks or crave episodes on day three. By hour 96 or day four the number of episodes will diminish to about 3.5. By day ten the average is just 1.4 per day. In that our basic time trigger was reconditioned upon depletion of our body’s nicotine, we need to explore and understand the reason for our continuing craves.
Overlaying our time trigger atop physical nicotine withdrawal symptoms can, for some, generate a rather intense 72-hour experience, but it’s even more complex than that. Conditioned triggers are being encountered as well. Very few willing to attempt recovery lack the basic core dream and desire needed to carry them far enough (72-96 hours) to begin feeling their physical symptoms begin to gradually subside or to watch the number of subconscious crave episodes become reduced by almost half. With a little self-determination, the battle against physical nicotine addition is over in a matter of hours.
It is hard to believe that drug manufactures have sold so many Chewers on their “Nicotine Replacement Therapy” (NRT) gradual reduction approach, when they’ve done nothing more than recanage nicotine. They are telling Chewers that the nicotine patch, gum, spray, chewer, candy or pills will make them more comfortable and they are 100% correct. Nicotine addicts need nicotine to maintain comfort. The question should be, does NRT’s gradual nicotine reduction approach help Chewers achieve permanent long-term abstinence from tobacco? Sadly, even their own studies (the results of which they hide from their public web sites and refuse to share with Chewers) show that 93% of over-the-counter NRT users in medical studies – studies designed by pharmaceutical companies to test and prove the merits of their product – relapse to chewing nicotine within just six months.
Check out the following links for more information about triggers:
Our Habit Triggers
Although our basic time trigger served as our mind’s foundation for conditioning it to generate desire attacks, we have also conditioned it to expect new nicotine during certain events, at specific times each day, upon experiencing certain emotions or when we engage in specific activities. The mind is a “steal trap.” You many not consciously remember what you were doing, feeling or where you were when you fed yourself nicotine in the past, but those memories have been locked away deep within your subconscious.
Each of these emotions, events, specific times or locations will trigger our mind’s crave generator to begin pulsating desire when next encountered. Before total comfort can arrive, each trigger needs to be reconditioned. Again, the beauty is that our subconscious is not capable of true reasoning and that almost all of our trigger links will be disconnected or reconditioned after just one episode where they fail to produce new nicotine. An additional comforting fact is that over time the power and intensity of our desire or crave generator will diminish to the point of becoming almost insignificant.
Almost like a battery gradually losing its charge, after about twelve weeks or 90 days our once powerful craves start becoming nothing more than ordinary “thoughts.” Just like the thought of a “nice juicy steak,” you will have total control over when you discard the thought. You may hear those in “cold turkey” recovery discuss long term “craves” (months or years down the road) but when you quiz them they quickly admit that it was more like dreaming about a “Hot Fudge Sunday” and it came and went almost as quickly as any other normal desire. What’s interesting is trying to learn what triggered the desire “thought,” as it is usually some activity that was infrequently engaged in but during which the ex-Chewer had previously chewed (weddings, funerals, graduations, births, etc.).
Aside from our basic time trigger that has already been reconditioned, most of our psychological or habit triggers need to be encountered and reconditioned before total comfort begins arriving. Our psychological triggers may include such things as the habit of chewing while talking on the phone, driving a vehicle, working, upon waking, before going to bed, when leaving a store, when around other Chewers, while drinking, surrounding romance, when alone, after meals, during celebrations, when sad, during stressful situations, during other specific emotions, or upon visiting specific locations (garage, porch, garden, in-laws, bathroom). You may notice a small crave spike on day seven of recovery as you celebrate your first full week of freedom. Almost all of us chewed as part celebrating. Unless you’ve developed an extremely healthy attitude, up until now you’ve probably been doing very little celebrating. When you do first celebrate, expect a visit from your joy trigger, your pride trigger and/or your party trigger.
The most serious trigger is a period of extremely “high stress” such as tremendous financial strain, serious family illness, injury, or the death of a close friend or loved one. It’s a cold hard fact of life that each of us will experience the death of someone we love. We need to prepare our mind now to cope with our “high stress” trigger, as it is certain to occur for each of us. If it occurs while our desire or crave generator still carries a significant charge (the first few weeks), it can be used as your mind’s unjustified excuse for relapse.
Unlike physical withdrawal, psychological withdrawal is 100% mental and greatly within our ability to control. To understand the process can be power in itself. We also need to realize that just one chew of nicotine from one chew will revive all memories and conditioning associated with that particular habit trigger and commence the process of re-establishing your full chemical dependency upon nicotine. Whether immediate or gradual, your freedom is over and you’re going back to your old level of nicotine intake or higher. Soon, the millions and millions of chewing memories in the recovered addict’s mind will make them feel like they’ve never tasted freedom. Once an addict, even when we do arrest and trade places with our dependency our probation is conditioned on one simple rule – no nicotine, Never Take Another Chew, Dip or Chew!
Depression & Sadness
Depression can affect our entire being. Sadness, loneliness, disruption of sleep, fatigue, digestion problems, stomach pains, poor memory, an inability to concentrate, a loss of appetite or weight gain, neglect of our appearance, low self esteem, loss of sex drive, irritability, hopelessness, headaches or even a change in bowel habits can and often do accompany depression. Serious chronic depression is often easily treated but does require medical assistance. That being said, giving up years and years of nicotine dependence is a traumatic event, akin to the death of a close loved one, which is often accompanied by the onset of a temporary state of depression.
Although nicotine is not a close friend or loved one, over the first 72 hours it, along with 90% of its metabolites (chemicals it breaks down into) exit the body via our urine. As it departs, not only is our mind breaking an extremely dependent psychological bond, recent studies continue to suggest that nicotine had physically taken select serotonin anxiety busting neuro-circuits hostage. Once the administration of nicotine ends, physical sensitivity readjustment is likely occurring as the brain resumes command and control.
Some degree of postpartum nicotine depression is common and heavy long-term Chewers seem to experience it a bit more frequently. It can almost seem like experiencing the death of a friend or loved one or the end of a (chemical) marriage or other long-term inter-dependent bond. It is normal to mourn the loss and go through the normal phases of grieving. This is an excellent article by Joel on the emotional loss associated with chewing cessation.
As with the end of any long-term relationship, our period of cessation mourning and grieving can be as long or short as we desire. Although it can and often does generate physical symptoms, our underlying conscious thoughts are very much within our ability to control. It can become the primary focus symptom once crave trigger re-conditioning diminishes in frequency to the point where you feel somewhat comfortable in managing or coping with craves. This usually happens somewhere between weeks one and three, but may not be noticed until later if any other symptom is receiving higher priority due to continuing discomfort.
In the Ward “abstinence effects” study – Addictive Behaviors, 26 (2001) Pages 311-327 – 39% of Chewers entering the study reported experiencing depression on the day before quitting compared to only 19% of the non-Chewers in the control group. On day three the percentage in recovery indicating depression peaked at 53%, and had fallen to 33% (6 points below baseline) by day seven and to just 20% by day twenty-eight – just one point above the non-Chewers in the control group.
It was once thought that those with depression chewed in order to self-medicate but new research is beginning to seriously ask, “Which came first, nicotine addiction or depression?”
Education and complete self-honesty are the quickest means of putting postpartum nicotine blues behind us. In reality the real quitting occurred when nicotine assumed neurochemical control and we lost the sense of normal that defined how and what we felt when interacting with life. You are not quitting you but recovering you. If each reason for feeling a sense of loss is fully explored we quickly begin to realize that our long held rationalization was our way of explaining why nicotine occupied center-stage in our life and an addict’s excuse for an inability to control the uncontrollable.
For example, many nicotine addicts have convinced themselves that tobacco makes their coffee taste better when in truth their coffee’s taste won’t change at all. In fact, our healed taste buds and more accurate sense of smell will allow us to enjoy our coffee or tea even more. The science behind why we feel that using nicotine helps relieve stress, when in truth it both diminishes the flow of serotonin (a stress busting neurochemical ) and generates body acids that quickly neutralize reserves of the alkaloid nicotine – along with numerous other false beliefs – if learned and understood could aid in helping us realize that nicotine was never our friend. “The truth will set us free.”
It should also be mentioned that the physician’s depression resources include scores of wonderful non-nicotine and non-addictive depression medications that do not have a carcinogen as one of the metabolites (NNK). Among them is bupropion (Wellbutrin and Zyban), which, after subtracting placebo performance, appears to aid roughly 13% of quitters. Wellbutrin and Zyban are both manufactured by the same company (GlaxoSmithKline) and contain the same active ingredient (bupropion). It is very important in using either of these drugs that you consult and rely upon your physician regarding risks, potential side effects, and proper use. You may want to note that although identical, Zyban is being marketed to Chewers while Wellbutrin is being marketed to people with depression. I mention this as almost all health insurance policies cover medications associated with the treatment of depression, while few cover cessation products or programs.
Loneliness or Feeling Cooped Up
Akin to postpartum nicotine depression, loneliness is natural anytime we leave behind a lifelong companion (who in this case was extremely unhealthy and killing us ever so slowly). It’s time to recognize a new healing and healthy companion – YOU! We need to climb out of the deep Chewer’s rut that we resided in for years. For far too long we’ve severely limited many of the activities that as Chewers we were willing to engage in either because they might have interfered with our need to obtain our mandatory nicotine fix (every 30 minutes or so) or because our lungs and body did not have the capacity to enjoy them. Start your new life now! Don’t wait to gradually learn that you’ve been missing so much. Alter your outlook, climb from the ditch and open your eyes. One of the interesting parts of recovery is in learning to live life as an ex-Chewer. If we want to stay in our rut and keep waiting for something to happen, instead of climbing out and learning to enjoy all that we’ve been missing, we’ll continue to feel lonely. If we don’t replace our loneliness with the glory of our wonderful new, emerging, and healthy life, we may eventually talk ourselves into returning to the world we know, a world of fix and fix after fix after fix – until death do we part.
Increased Appetite or Hunger
It’s easy to attribute a new found desire to consume large quantities of food to our rapidly healing taste buds and our revived sense of smell. Truth is that many reach for extra calories almost immediately and probably for a combination of reasons. Whether using it as a hand-to-mouth oral crutch or as a replacement feeding for those now absent nicotine induced adrenaline releases that once pumped stored fats and sugars into the blood with each new chew, the net effect is the same – extra body weight. How can the weight gained during quitting be minimized?
Yes, the foundation of our dependency was a nicotine-induced flood of unearned dopamine. Yes, a mouth full of food will provide a small but short-lived burst of dopamine. But whether a brief crutch and coping tool, take extreme care not to condition your mind to use extra food as a substitute for nicotine. Serious weight problems can gradually sap you of your dreams and motivations to the point of making a 50% chance of a losing 15 years of life (which is the average loss of life for the long term tobacco user) look more appealing than that next extra pound. If you do find yourself using food as a temporarily early oral substitute (which is NOT recommended) reach for healthy foods like fresh vegetables.
Even if we leave extra food alone it’s very common to see some initial weight gain in the first couple of days. Unless you’re piling it on, it’s usually extra water retention primarily associated with physiological changes. If so, you should see water retention return to normal within two weeks. Minor metabolism changes can account for a few extra-unburned calories each day but they can be more than offset by enhanced cardiovascular abilities and general enhanced performance of the entire body. Not chewing nicotine does not cause weight gain, eating does.
We often chewed at the end of meals. It was a conditioned signal to the brain that our meal was complete and our period of eating over. This cue no longer exists. Its absence may lead to continued eating after our normal meal would have ended. If the leftovers keep vanishing you may need to find a new cue that your meal has ended. A toothpick, walk, immediate brushing of your teeth, doing the dishes, a stick of sugarless gum, or even a nice big deep breath may be all it takes.
But accept early on that should they occur, that a few extra pounds are acceptable and be patient with yourself. It would take an extra 100 pounds to equal the health risks associated with a single can of chewing tobacco. Is your life worth a few temporary pounds? There will be plenty of time to shed them later.
The next few minutes are all that matter and each is entirely doable. There is only one rule – no nicotine today, Never Take Another Chew, Dip or Chew!
© WhyQuit.Com 2000, 2013
The original article has been modified to be more relevant for dippers and chewers.
On about week 6, finally starting to feel better. It was really rough for the first 30 days. Been trying to quit for about a year now. This is the 3rd time I’ve tried in the last calendar year. Never gotten this far!!! I did get really stressed last week bought a can a dipped for 10 minutes. Thought I was going to puke. Pulled over spit it out and throw the can away. I do use cowboy coffee chew and smokey mountain. Bought 5 cans on Amazon last week. Works for when gum and mints don’t cut it. Starting to feel somewhat free from the addition. Still have a long way to go!!! I have starting to think I can do it for real. This site has helped me out a lot!!
Did you fully quit this past year Jake?
i ll never quit it
Too bad Bob… I honestly feel bad for you.
I’m on day 27 & I’m down. The last week I’ve been so angry. I’m talking rage!!! I just want to here it’s going to get better