Several different factors can affect how long it takes the body to remove nicotine and its by-products. In general, a regular smoker will have nicotine or its by-products, such as cotinine, in the body for about three or four days after stopping.
Nicotine produces pleasant feelings that make the smoker want to smoke more. It also acts as a kind of depressant by interfering with the flow of information between nerve cells. As the nervous system adapts to nicotine, smokers tend to increase the number of cigarettes they smoke and therefore the amount of nicotine in their blood. After a while, the smoker develops a tolerance to the drug, which leads to an increase in smoking. Over time, the smoker reaches a certain nicotine level and then smokes to maintain this level of nicotine. In fact, when nicotine is inhaled in cigarette smoke, it reaches the brain faster than drugs that enter the body intravenously.
When smokers try to cut back or quit, the lack of nicotine leads to withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is both physical and mental. Physically, the body reacts to the absence of nicotine. Mentally, the smoker is faced with giving up a habit, which calls for a major change in behavior. Both must be addressed in order for the quitting process to work.
If a person has smoked regularly for a few weeks or longer and suddenly stops using tobacco or greatly reduces the amount smoked, they will have withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms usually start within a few hours of the last cigarette and peak about two or three days later. Withdrawal symptoms can last from a few days up to several weeks. They can include: dizziness (which may only last one to two days after quitting); depression; feelings of frustration, impatience and anger; anxiety; irritability; sleep disturbances, including having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and having bad dreams or even nightmares; trouble concentrating; restlessness; headaches; tiredness; and increased appetite.
These symptoms can lead the smoker to start smoking cigarettes again to boost blood levels of nicotine back to a level where there are no symptoms.
No matter how old you are or how long you've smoked, quitting will help you live longer. People who stop smoking before age 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who continue to smoke. Ex-smokers enjoy a higher quality of life with fewer illnesses from cold and flu viruses, better self-reported health and reduced rates of bronchitis and pneumonia.
If you or someone you know is interested in quitting, call the Clark County Health Department at 744-4482 to register for The Cooper/Clayton Method to Stop Smoking or visit www.clarkhealthdept.org. Cooper/Clayton is a highly effective, comprehensive smoking cessation program. Cooper/Clayton is paid for by the health department, and nicotine replacement products such as the patch, gum or lozenge are 100 percent reimbursable.
Make your New Year's resolution to become healthier by quitting smoking.
Information for this article was provided by the American Cancer Society.