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smoking cessation

Alternative Names
nicotine withdrawal, quitting smoking, nicotine cessation

What is going on in the body?
Nicotine is a poisonous chemical found in tobacco. It is the substance that produces many of the effects of tobacco. The first effect of nicotine, when only a small amount of the substance has entered the body, is as a stimulant. As the body takes more in, nicotine acts as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. Nicotine is also used as an insecticide and fumigant.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
Nicotine withdrawal is characterised by:
  • symptoms that appear as a reaction to stopping nicotine use, or withdrawal symptoms
  • withdrawal symptoms that cause problems with social or personal interactions or work performance
  • craving for nicotine-containing products
  • weakness or discomfort
  • anxiety
  • depressed mood
  • irritability and restlessness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • increased appetite
  • difficulty concentrating
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
People quickly become dependent on nicotine when using tobacco products. Anyone who uses these substances is at risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

What can be done to prevent the condition?
Using nicotine replacement therapies can ease nicotine withdrawal. These include nicotine gum, nicotine patches and nicotine oral inhaler.

How is the condition diagnosed?
Nicotine dependence is diagnosed when a person develops bodily symptoms of withdrawal when nicotine use is stopped.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
There are typically no long-term effects from nicotine withdrawal. The most intense symptoms last only 1 to 2 weeks. Craving for nicotine is the only symptom that persists longer than a month.

What are the risks to others?
There are no risks to others when an individual decides to stop using nicotine.

What are the treatments for the condition?
One form of treatment is nicotine replacement therapy. This consists of any system of delivering nicotine to the body other than by using tobacco. Types of nicotine replacement therapy include:
  • nicotine gum
  • nicotine patches
  • nicotine oral inhaler
In addition to nicotine replacement therapy, there is now an oral medication called bupropion that can be used to assist people to stop smoking. Bupropion has been shown to be helpful to people trying to quit smoking. Its effectiveness is not related to whether or not the smoker is depressed. It appears to work in the body in a different manner when used to address nicotine dependence.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
Side effects due to treatment vary depending upon the specific medication used. Side effects include:

Nicotine gum:
  • sore jaw
  • sore mouth
  • excessive salivation
  • nausea
  • hiccups
Nicotine patch:
  • skin irritation
  • sweating
  • abnormal dreams
  • insomnia
  • nervousness
  • diarrhoea
  • dry mouth
  • muscle pain
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of sexual drive
  • menstrual changes
  • agitation, anxiety, restlessness
  • constipation
  • difficulty sleeping
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • sweating
  • weight loss
What happens after treatment for the condition?
Withdrawal symptoms are temporary. They usually last only 1-2 weeks.

How is the condition monitored?
Relapses are common after smoking cessation. To remain nicotine free, smokers should avoid tempting situations and do something else when the urge to smoke arises.

Author: Ann Reyes, Ph.D.
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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