If you’re thinking about stopping smoking; one of the first questions you might have, understandably, will be “How long does it take?”. The good news is that whether you’ve been smoking for a very long time or not, whenever you decide to quit, your body will begin to repair itself from the ill-effects of the addiction- even after years of neglect.
This article will take you through what makes smoking so addictive and why it is difficult to stop; providing some context for our timeline on how long it actually takes to kick the habit for good.
Nicotine is the stimulant found in tobacco products, such as cigarettes and cigars. It is classified as a drug that can affect a person's brain function. What makes nicotine so addictive is the effect that it has on the brain; it alters the balance of two chemicals in your brain, Dopamine and Noradrenaline. When nicotine changes the levels of these chemicals, your mood and concentration levels are affected in a way that produces feelings of pleasure; while reducing stress and anxiety levels.
Since this is a change that happens very quickly when smoking a cigarette, it is incredibly easy for smokers to become dependent on this nicotine rush. Even a light smoker; someone who smokes less than 10 cigarettes on average every day, can be getting around 100 hits of nicotine per day, every day. So you can see how smoking can be one of the most addictive habits to give up.
Smoking increases the number of nicotine receptors in your brain. When you stop smoking, those receptors continue to expect nicotine, and when they don’t get it, they begin to adjust. That adjustment process is what causes both cravings and withdrawal, and overcoming these withdrawal symptoms and cravings is one of the determining factors in whether you successfully quit or not. Some of the symptoms you can experience with withdrawal include:
Once you’ve stopped smoking, it will take nicotine around 72 hours to leave your body- and the withdrawal symptoms you experience will take effect around 2-3 days after you quit. These symptoms usually last for around 1-3 months after you quit; although symptoms like low levels of energy and irritability can take longer to go away than the others.
Any effective smoking cessation program will have to consider this long adjustment period; the period of time it takes your nicotine receptors to go back to normal. For this reason, you’ll find that some doctors recommend weaning off nicotine slowly, with things like nicotine replacement therapy, rather than just going cold turkey.
So to summarise, most people seeking to quit smoking will start to feel better after around a week, and all of symptoms will have gone within 3 months. And in terms of nicotine withdrawal symptoms, this average is true across all types of smokers; heavy and light, so you should never be caught in the trap of thinking that its too late to think about quitting. The average timescale for people overcoming nicotine addiction is around 3 months.
Hopefully this article helped you to answer the questions of what goes into, and how long it approximately takes to, quit smoking. For some other articles with advice and insight on stopping smoking, you can see our other smoking blog pieces here.