Dreaded withdrawal symptoms - how to avoid them

Withdrawal symptoms are a common occurrence during smoking cessation and also during common nicotine replacement therapies. They hinder the success of the therapy and often lead to treatment being discontinued and to relapse. So the key question is: How well can therapy be integrated into your everyday life by avoiding or minimising withdrawal syndromes?




What are withdrawal symptoms?

First of all, it’s important to know that withdrawal symptoms are the result of nicotine dependence and occur in the course of quitting smoking. But what is an "addiction"? Doctors make this diagnosis if three or more certain criteria were present at the same time within the span of one year. These include a strong desire or a kind of compulsion to consume the psychotropic substance (in this case nicotine), reduced ability to control consumption, a physical withdrawal syndrome upon cessation and reduction of consumption, and evidence of tolerance.

From a scientific point of view, the development of addiction cannot be attributed to only one cause. Rather, neurobiological changes in the reward system and impulse control, as well as learning-psychological effects (conditioning, positive reinforcement) underlie the addictive mechanisms. Genetic factors are also discussed.

Characteristic withdrawal symptoms are irritability, frustration or anger, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, increased appetite, stomach cramps, nausea, circulatory disorders restlessness, depressed mood and insomnia. The symptoms show: Smoking isn’t just physically addictive, but also psychologically addictive.


Physical withdrawal symptoms - how the e-cigarette can help

Once the decision has been made to quit smoking, the next question is how to deal with the physical withdrawal symptoms. After all, minimising them is a prerequisite for long-term smoking cessation. Should it be a nicotine gum or a nicotine spray? Or would I do better with a nicotine patch? But there is another way.

A survey conducted by the University of Düsseldorf on smoking behaviour in Germany (DEBRA study) shows that currently the most frequently used aid to quit smoking is the e-cigarette. This is not surprising as e-cigarettes are up to 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes. They also continue to release nicotine in an inhalable form without simultaneously burdening the smoker with the toxic by-products of tobacco combustion.


Another advantage is that the feared physical withdrawal symptoms are absent. In addition, the smoking ritual learned over the years continues to be imitated. But, did you know that e-cigarettes can be more effective than nicotine replacement products? This is the result of a recent study.


Behavioural therapy for psychological withdrawal symptoms

Psychological dependence develops and consolidates through ingrained behavioural patterns of smokers over time. Even if physical withdrawal has been successfully mastered, these patterns can still be present years later and can be reactivated by the slightest internal or external stimuli. This means you relapse.

Behavioural therapy treatments (e.g. mindfulness training) start here and are demonstrably effective. They help those affected deal with their addiction and control it. You practise how to break free from the behavioural patterns that lead to relapse and how to cope with the daily challenges in the process.

The great advantage of a mindfulness-based approach to smoking cessation is that it suppresses your urge to smoke the moment it arises and therefore takes your individual situation into account. This means that there are no drastic changes in your everyday life because you do not have to avoid risky situations. Behavioural therapy thus adapts to your individual living conditions and trains your personality - simply and without complications.


Most effective: reduce different withdrawal symptoms at the same time.

It makes it easier for you to quit smoking if you specifically address both aspects of the addiction (physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms) and separate them from each other in time. For example, it makes sense to first fight the physical addiction with nicotine replacement therapy while continuing to tackle the psychological component of the habit downstream. The second step would then take place after the successfully completed nicotine withdrawal with the help of behavioural or mindfulness training, which replaces previously learned behaviour with new thought patterns.


Experience shows: When nicotine replacement and behavioural therapy is combined – which is easy to implement and does not require major changes in everyday life – it facilitates the path to a non-smoking lifestyle.