We all have our reasons for smoking—to relieve stress, keep our hands busy, focus our concentration, boost our social reputation, and so on. Once a nicotine dependency is established, it slowly manifests itself into your daily routine, and in attempting to quit, you may realize that going cold turkey or using harm reduction products like e-cigarettes are only one component of becoming smoke- and nicotine-free.
Over time, we develop cues—situations and environments that we view as acceptable to or dedicate time to smoke or vape. We begin to associate lunch breaks, drinking with friends, nightly routines and driving time with smoking or vaping. Because of this association, it is more likely for former smokers/vapers to relapse and start up again during these times.
After quitting, it takes around 72 hours for nicotine to leave your system. However, it can take up to 3 months for nicotine withdrawal symptoms to subside. Nicotine increases levels of dopamine (a pleasure neurotransmitter) in parts of the brain that correlate with feeling good. Nicotine also mimics the shape of another neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which is responsible for muscle movement, relaxation, cognizance, mood and appetite. Withdrawal weakens the acetylcholine receptor in the brain that promotes willpower, self-esteem and happiness. And since the dopamine levels in the brain are fluctuating in an attempt to balance hormone levels, it becomes even more difficult to refrain from nicotine.
How to Control Your Nicotine Consumption
If you haven’t yet taken the step of cutting nicotine out completely, you may want to start being more mindful of how and when you’re using it so that you can start to break the association with the cues that you’ve developed.
For smokers, try substituting cigarettes with e-cigs or nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products, and restrict the times at which you allow yourself to smoke.
NRT include, but are not limited to
- Nicotine patches
- Nicotine gum
- Nicotine lozenges
- Nicotine inhalers
- Smoking cessation medications
It is recommended to carefully consider the tools you choose to assist you in weaning off nicotine in order to prevent accidental nicotine overdose (for example, nicotine patches should not be used in tandem with cigarettes or other NRT products).
For vapers, use a lower nicotine concentration in less stressful hours, like after work or on the weekends.
By taking these steps, you are ensuring that you actively consume less nicotine throughout the process of becoming nicotine-free. By gradually consuming less nicotine over time, your nicotine cravings are likely to subside faster.
Check out my article on nicotine withdrawal symptoms and how to beat them below.