Am I Having Nicotine Withdrawal?

Nicotine withdrawal and asthma

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Nicotine withdrawal is one of the common reasons that asthmatics who smoke fail in their quit attempts. If you have tried and failed to quit smoking, you are not alone. The average smoker in the United States makes six quit attempts before succeeding. Nicotine addiction is really powerful with nearly 85% of quitters relapsing within one week.

Nicotine addiction is characterized by:

  • Withdrawal symptoms. Presence and severity of predictable symptoms that occur when you do not have a cigarette.
  • Reinforcement. People frequently use nicotine over and over with effects of nicotine-providing a pleasurable response.
  • Tolerance. Typically people need to smoke more overtime to achieve the same pleasurable effects.
  • Dependence. This reflects how difficult it is to quit with many people smoking despite full knowledge of the adverse health effects.

Many patients with multiple addictions have told me that getting rid of nicotine is by far the hardest thing they have ever done. If you are one of the 21 percent of asthmatics that smoke, understanding nicotine withdrawal is important to making a successful quit attempt.

What Are The Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal?

Nicotine, like any drug, affects different patients in different ways. Some patients experience more withdrawal symptoms due to the pharmacologic effects of nicotine, while others are more impacted on the behavioral side.
Symptoms of physical withdrawal may include:

  • Trouble sleeping — either falling asleep or frequent awakenings.
  • Anxiety — feeling sad or down when quitting.
  • More irritable than usual — loved ones or coworkers may call you grouchy or worse.
  • Increased restlessness or feelings of jumpiness.
  • Easily getting frustrated or angry.
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly.
  • Increased appetite.

You may also experience a number of symptoms when you quit that are part of quitting, but not necessarily part of physical withdrawal per se. When you quit you may also experience:

  • Constipation
  • Increased cough
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Dry Mouth
  • Abnormal feeling around tongue
  • Allergy-like symptoms

Why Do I Still Want To Smoke?

As I eluded to above, nicotine (the actual drug in most cigarettes) is very powerful and addictive. Even in the face of adverse health effects, many asthmatics continue to smoke. Many patients have told me that getting off cocaine or alcohol pales in comparison to quitting smoking.
Many people describe in vivid detail losing the pleasure of not only how the feel, smell, and lighting of a cigarette, but also the ritual aspects associated with smoking. These behavioral losses seem to make the physical withdrawal symptoms that much worse at times.

Is Nicotine Withdrawal Dangerous?

While the symptoms described above are uncomfortable, you are not putting your health at risk by making a quit attempt. If you have a history of depression or anxiety, you may want to talk with your doctor. Quitting smoking can worsen some of these symptoms. I sometimes ask patients to try to get their mental health symptoms under control before making a quit attempt.

Five D’s For Coping With Nicotine Withdrawal

When attempting to deal with physical withdrawal, think of the 5 D’s:

  • Delay - the urge to smoke will pass in 3–5 minutes.
  • Distract - Call a friend or go for a walk.
  • Drink water to help fight off cravings.
  • Deep breathing - Relax and concentrate on how good you will feel not smoking.
  • Discuss your feelings with someone close to you.

Can I Take Medication To Help With Withdrawal Symptoms?

Yes. If you need a cigarette when you first get up in the morning or cannot go to certain places because of “no smoking,” you may benefit and be more successful with pharmacological aids usually referred to as nicotine replacement therapy. However, you need to want to quit; these medications will not make you quit. Nicotine gum and patches are now available over the counter.

Do I Need To Talk With My Doctor

Yes. Talk with your doctor to see if you might benefit from nicotine replacement therapy. This is important because you will probably not want to use any of the nicotine inhalers due to your asthma.

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