With nicotine’s highly addictive nature, it’s no wonder it’s the most common addiction in America. Approximately 23.6 million Americans struggled with nicotine dependence in 2020. The unfortunate reality is that because the brain’s biochemistry is altered when consuming nicotine, it is extremely difficult for someone to quit smoking, even when honest attempts are made. Furthermore, despite known health risks associated with smoking, the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms experienced when quitting can keep the user in a vicious cycle of using nicotine to ward off these symptoms.
Fortunately, getting the necessary help to transition from smoking to being drug-free is possible. Learning what nicotine abuse looks like, its side effects, and how to detox off nicotine and get help for addiction are essential to maintaining this long-term, drug-free lifestyle.
What is Nicotine Abuse?
Nicotine addiction can occur immediately, even after one use for some people. This can lead to dependence on the drug, needing more nicotine to feel “functional.” Learning some tell-tale signs of nicotine dependence/abuse can help one discern if seeking help to detox off nicotine is necessary.
- Inability to stop smoking: Although many attempts may have been made, the attempts have been unsuccessful long-term.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop smoking: When attempting to stop smoking, one may experience physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, strong mood swings, intense cravings, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, depressed mood, frustration, diarrhea, constipation, increased appetite, or insomnia.
- Continuing to smoke despite health problems: If one cannot stop smoking even when experiencing known health problems associated with smoking, addiction is most likely at hand.
- Avoiding social events that don’t allow smoking: This can include avoiding “smoke-free” restaurants or hanging out with people that have an aversion to smoking.
Nicotine Side Effects
It is well-known that nicotine can cause many adverse health side effects. Still, many people may not know extensively just how damaging this harmful chemical can have to the human body and its ability to function properly. Nicotine particularly impacts areas of the brain related to breathing, heart rate, appetite, and memory. As such, when people use nicotine for an extended period, especially in cases where nicotine is abused, the brain’s chemical messengers become imbalanced, affecting several bodily functions. However, because withdrawal symptoms can be so uncomfortable for the user, many people are stuck in an addiction cycle with nicotine.
Some immediate, short-term side effects of nicotine may include:
- Feelings of relaxation or euphoria
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
Some long-term effects nicotine can have on the body may include:
- Lung and mouth cancer
- Heart attack
- Macular degeneration
- Gum disease
- Premature aging
- Fertility issues
- Pregnancy complications including miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature delivery
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in babies exposed to cigarette smoke
Psychological problems induced by nicotine abuse may include:
Because nicotine is highly addictive, it is particularly dangerous for teens under 18, whose brains are still developing. As a result, the United States Surgeon General warns that “nicotine exposure during adolescence adversely affects cognitive function and development. Therefore, the potential long-term cognitive effects of exposure to nicotine in this age group are of great concern.”
How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your System?
It only takes 72 hours after quitting smoking for the nicotine to be flushed out of your body. When you smoke, nicotine gets absorbed into your bloodstream, and enzymes in your liver break down that nicotine into product known as cotinine. The amount of cotinine in the bloodstream will be proportionate to the amount of nicotine ingested. It takes at least three months for the brain chemistry to return to normal after last using the drug. Furthermore, cotinine may be present in the body for up to four days if smoking is infrequent. With regular exposure, cotinine may be detectable in the body for up to 8 weeks after the last exposure.
Some employers may require prospective employees to take a test that identifies if nicotine is used and use the results to decide whether to hire someone. Nicotine can be measured either qualitatively (whether nicotine is present) or quantitatively (how much nicotine is present) through urine, saliva, hair, or blood tests.
Nicotine and cotinine can be detoxed out of saliva within four days. However, if testing through the hair follicle method, nicotine/cotinine can be detected for up to three months to one year after the last exposure, depending on what hair test is used. However, because this test is the most costly of all methods, it isn’t as commonly utilized by doctors or employers. Because false positives with blood testing can be common since it picks up on a compound called thiocyanate, found in foods such as broccoli and cabbage, and with certain medications, it is important to discuss any false positives with your doctor or possible employer (if you currently do not smoke or have not smoked in the past).
While many people will start feeling better after one week of detoxing off nicotine, it may take those full 3 months (or more) for some people to feel better, especially if nicotine addiction is severe and the user has been smoking for a long period. This is typically why most doctors recommend weaning off nicotine slowly with nicotine replacement therapy to increase the chances of long-term success.
When weaning off nicotine, monitor any withdrawal symptoms you may experience and discuss with a doctor if they become severe.
Some common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Insomnia/difficulty sleeping
- Increased appetite
- Abdominal cramps
- Difficulty concentrating
- Digestive issues
- A strong craving for nicotine
- Mood swings
- Low mood/depression
How to Get Help and Detox from Nicotine
Nicotine is extremely addictive, so you are not alone if you have had many unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking. Therefore, to set yourself up for success, it is best to have a treatment plan to help lay out exactly how you plan to quit. In addition, because cravings for the drug are of particular concern during this transition time, one needs to consider this adjustment period and plan how they will quit smoking.
A typical plan to quit smoking may include:
- Deciding to quit
- Understanding that it may take a while for cravings to subside
- Speaking with a medical professional for guidance on quitting
- Removing all nicotine from the house/car
- Understanding your triggers and speaking with a clinical professional to discover why you started smoking in the first place to avoid future usage
- Stock up on supplies: replacing the need to smoke with chewing gum, hard candy, raw vegetable sticks, etc.
- Picking a day to quit: avoid picking a day when you know you’ll be busy or tense to avoid the trigger of smoking to “calm your nerves”
- Let people know: have people keep you accountable for your decision to quit smoking. Pick people that will encourage you and who don’t smoke themselves.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, reach out today. Our Austin, Dallas, and Houston rehab centers offer a safe place to detox and heal, no matter what type of substance you may be addicted to. With the help of a medical professional or behavioral treatment plan through an inpatient/intensive outpatient drug rehab, it is possible to transition from nicotine dependence to freedom from nicotine addiction.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to detox from nicotine?
It can take up to 1-3 months for your brain chemistry to fully re-balance after quitting nicotine. The most severe withdrawal symptoms occur 1-3 days after stopping nicotine use.
What does nicotine withdrawal feel like?
The most common withdrawal symptoms include intense craving for nicotine, sweating, irritability, headaches, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and weight gain. However, it is possible to stop using nicotine for good.
What is the fastest way to detox from nicotine?
Detox occurs when your body eliminates a substance through the excretion of urine and solid waste. The fastest way to detox from nicotine is by drinking lots of water, sweating, including exercise or infrared sauna therapy, and by taking natural detox supplements.
What does a nicotine withdrawal headache feel like?
Headaches are usually one of the first symptoms when detoxing from nicotine. These are usually mild and can feel similar to a caffeine detox headache as both are stimulants.
What is good for nicotine withdrawal?
Anything that can help your body process toxins is good for nicotine withdrawal, including lots of high-quality water, sauna therapy, exercise, and all-natural detox supplements.
How do you get rid of a nicotine headache?
You can treat a nicotine headache similar to how you would treat a regular headache. Drink plenty of water, rest, and take Tylenol or ibuprofen if the headache persists.
Infinite Recovery has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our references. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our editorial guidelines and medical review policy.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. What is the scope of tobacco, nicotine, and e-cigarette use in the United States? | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Published May 2022. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/tobacco-nicotine-e-cigarettes/what-scope-tobacco-use-its-cost-to-society
- Mayo Clinic. Nicotine dependence – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Published April 19, 2022. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nicotine-dependence/symptoms-causes/syc-20351584
- Medline Plus. Emphysema. Published June 24, 2022. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://medlineplus.gov/emphysema.html
- Seltman W. Age-Related Macular Degeneration. WebMD. Published November 22, 2021. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/eye-health/macular-degeneration/age-related-macular-degeneration-overview#1
- Mayo Clinic. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Published May 20, 2022. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sudden-infant-death-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20352800
- Bahl R. Nicotine and Health Effects on the Body. Healthline. Published August 23, 2018. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/heres-how-nicotine-affects-the-body
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nicotine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); 2014. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK294308/
- Peckham A. How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your System? Healthline. Published May 11, 2022. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/quit-smoking/how-long-does-nicotine-stay-in-your-system
- American Cancer Society. Nicotine Replacement Therapy to Help You Quit Tobacco. Published August 2, 2021. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://www.cancer.org/healthy/stay-away-from-tobacco/guide-quitting-smoking/nicotine-replacement-therapy.html