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Nicotine Withdrawal Begins Within 30 Minutes

Everyone knows that stopping smoking is difficult. Nicotine is a powerful drug that causes release of neurotransmitter chemicals such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and dopamine providing stimulation and a feeling of pleasure.

New research discovers the addictive characteristics of the drug begin within 30 minutes of the last puff or ingestion creating a desire for more. Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include cravings for cigarettes, mood disturbances, appetite increase and sleep problems.

Thomas H. Brandon, Ph.D., Director of H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute’s Tobacco Research & Intervention Program and his research team from Moffitt and the University of South Florida published their research in the most recent issue of Psychopharmacology, authored by Peter S. Hendricks, Joseph, W. Ditre, and David J. Drobes, and Brandon.

The team brought 50 pack-a-day smokers into the laboratory for four hours of testing. Half the smokers were randomly selected to continue smoking as usual, while the other half were asked to abstain from smoking for the four hours. Every half-hour these participants received a series of tests. Differences between the two groups were considered evidence of nicotine withdrawal.

Within 30 minutes, the abstaining smokers reported greater cravings for cigarettes. By one hour, they reported greater anger. Increases in anxiety, sadness, and difficulty concentrating all appeared within the first three hours. Results also show that in the first half-hour the abstaining smokers already performed more poorly on a task requiring sustained attention, and that their heart rate slowed within the first hour, another withdrawal symptom.

These symptoms doom many attempts to quit smoking, and therefore a range of smoking cessation medications have been developed to reduce their magnitude. Withdrawal symptoms represent a smoker’s brain and body adjusting to being nicotine-free, and they typically peak within the first three days of quitting smoking and last for two weeks or longer.

“This study suggests that the typical smoker begins to feel somewhat out-of-sorts within an hour of his or her last cigarette,” says senior author Brandon. “Although they are not yet in the throes of full withdrawal that they would experience after a day without nicotine, they can already perceive that they are not feeling quite right, and that a cigarette would offer temporary relief.”

Brandon points out that when nicotine-dependent smokers are allowed to smoke at will, they average one cigarette about every 40 minutes, by which point nearly all the nicotine from their previous cigarette has left the brain.

“The study indicates that nicotine withdrawal is not only a barrier to quitting smoking, but that it likely plays a subtle role in the decision to smoke nearly every cigarette of the day,” says Brandon. “Nicotine replacement (such as nicotine gum or lozenges) may help you get through the day, but really this is another good reason to quit smoking all together and enjoy life without the daily burden of nicotine withdrawal.”

Source: University of South Florida

Nicotine Withdrawal Begins Within 30 Minutes

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Nicotine Withdrawal Begins Within 30 Minutes. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 21, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.