Smoking cigarettes is a highly addictive activity that involves the consumption of a stimulant drug known as nicotine. Nicotine aids in the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that creates positive sensations throughout the body. It is common to experience significant mental and physical side effects for weeks or months after quitting smoking. However, quitting smoking is known to improve long term health of the lungs, heart, and entire body. In this article we answer the questions what happens when you quit smoking and why is smoking addictive?
Why Is Smoking Addictive?
Smoking is addictive because cigarettes contain a stimulant drug called nicotine. Consuming nicotine leads to the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that acts as a messenger between neurons. When dopamine is released, it creates positive sensations throughout the body, which can sometimes be addicting.
In those who smoke often and for extended periods of time, receptors in the brain become dependent on nicotine to activate and work properly. Nicotine activates a release of dopamine, however, this effect does not last long. Eventually, the effects of nicotine fade and the brain is left wanting more. This cyclical process of nicotine consumption and dopamine release is the underlying mechanism of smoking addiction.
How To Quit Smoking
Quitting smoking can be difficult. Fortunately, there are a multitude of programs, products, and medications available to prevent and heal nicotine addiction. Common methods for quitting smoking include nicotine replacement therapy, physical activity, counseling, and prescription medications like bupropion.
What Happens When You Quit Smoking?
When a person quits smoking, they deprive their body and brain receptors of nicotine and dopamine. Consistent nicotine consumption causes the dopamine receptors to be frequently activated. Dopamine is a chemical that creates a pleasurable sensation. Without nicotine, the body receives much less dopamine, which can significantly impact mental health and lead to depression.
Life without cigarettes may initially be very difficult because the body will remain addicted to nicotine for a while, but have no way to obtain it. Quitting smoking is often more challenging for those who smoke more often and in greater quantities.
Side Effects Of Quitting Smoking
Smoking cigarettes can often lead to nicotine addiction. When one quits smoking, their body remains addicted to nicotine for a period of time. Without nicotine, it is common for the body to enter nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine withdrawal can cause both minor and significant side effects. Some side effects are more physical, while others affect mood and mental health.
Common physical side effects of nicotine withdrawal include loss of appetite, increased craving for certain foods, cough, headache, fatigue, and constipation. The mental side effects of nicotine withdrawal include anxiety, depression, irritability, and mental fog.
Stop Smoking Timeline
Although quitting smoking can be difficult, the benefits of quitting smoking become apparent very quickly. There are also substantial long-term benefits of quitting smoking, including improved lung health, reduced risk of heart disease, and increased life span. After a person stops smoking, their body may respond in various ways at the following time intervals:
After 1 Hour
One hour after smoking a cigarette, heart rate returns to normal levels and blood pressure begins to drop. Blood circulation may also improve.
After 12 Hours
Cigarettes contain multiple toxins, including the common gas carbon monoxide. In high doses, carbon monoxide can damage the lungs, and in some cases, be fatal. 12 hours after smoking, the body cleanses itself of carbon monoxide and oxygen levels within the body begin to increase.
After 1 Day
The benefits of quitting smoking are more apparent 24 hours after quitting smoking. At this point, the risk of heart attack begins to decrease. Smoking increases the risk of heart attack by lowering levels of good cholesterol, making exercise and breathing more difficult. In just one day without a cigarette, a person’s oxygen levels begin to rise, making physical activity easier and more comfortable.
After 2 Days
Smoking can significantly damage the nervous system. Scientists have found that a compound in tobacco and nicotine causes white blood cells to attack healthy cells, leading to nerve damage. These nerve cells begin to heal in as little as two days without smoking.
After 3 Days
After three days without a cigarette, the nicotine levels in the body become depleted. While beneficial for overall health, this depletion can cause nicotine withdrawal. Within three days after quitting smoking, most people will experience mild symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, such as irritability and moodiness.
After 1 Month
In as little as one month, athletic function and lung health begin to improve. As the lungs heal, former smokers may notice improved stamina and less coughing. Side effects from nicotine withdrawal may continue for as long as a month.
After 3 Months
After three months without smoking, side effects from nicotine withdrawal are often nonexistent. one should consult a doctor if they still experience significant withdrawal symptoms at this stage. Circulation continues to improve and most ex-smokers should be able to participate in significant physical activity.
After 1 Year
One year after quitting smoking, a person’s risk for coronary disease decreases significantly. At this stage, the lungs have significantly healed themselves. Cilia, the delicate, hair-like structures inside lungs, have recovered from the damage caused by cigarette smoke. Around this time, most smokers are significantly less likely to develop lung disease than they were before.
After 5 Years
When you smoke, toxic chemicals enter your blood vessels and send chemicals to your brain to get your heart to beat faster. This causes your blood vessels to narrow, which can raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. After five years without smoking, the blood vessels begin to widen again. The risk of stroke and heart attack will continue to decrease for years to come.
After 10 Years
After 10 years, the risk for developing lung cancer is half of what it was when a person smoked. The likelihood of developing throat or mouth cancer also significantly decreases.
After 20 Years
After 20 years without smoking, the risk of injury or death from smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer drops significantly. At this stage, the lungs have usually healed completely. However, some ex-smokers may suffer from lifelong lung damage.
What Are The Benefits Of Quitting Smoking?
Quitting smoking can drastically improve physical and mental health, both in the short and long term. It can also significantly reduce the risk of death and serious health problems such as cancer. In some cases, quitting smoking can add as many as 10 years to a person’s life expectancy.
Addiction to smoking places a heavy financial burden on smokers. On average, a pack of cigarettes costs $7, and heavy smokers can smoke a pack a day. Quitting smoking can free up a smoker's finances as they cease to spend significant amounts of cash on cigarettes.
Stop Smoking Summary
Quitting smoking can be difficult because it necessitates cutting off an addiction to nicotine. When a person quits smoking, they may at first experience symptoms of withdrawal such as headache, fatigue, and cravings. However, over the long term, life without nicotine can improve the health of a person’s heart, lungs, mind, and entire body.
There are many short-term and long-term benefits of quitting smoking, including decreased risk of heart and lung disease, and improved capacity for physical activity.