Mood changes can be caused by nicotine withdrawals symptoms and a feeling of grieving. After years of smoking, cigarettes become a coping mechanism or even a ‘friend’ smokers can rely on. Hence, quitting (even though very positive and beneficial change in somebody’s life) can bring a feeling of grief.


Nicotine bonds with our brain receptors and triggers release of dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for the feeling of pleasure and the desire to repeat behaviours that led to that pleasure – like smoking. Therefore, mood changes are strongly associated with nicotine withdrawal symptoms. This withdrawal is when the body is getting used to not having nicotine at all and the decrease of dopamine in the brain. New research shows that it takes 3 months for dopamine levels to return to normal following a quit.

What we call a grief is our emotional reaction to a loss of any kind. This is commonly associated with death, but there are other forms of loss such as job, friendship or addiction. Grief is personalised and unique, making it hard to put any time restrictions on it. However, most of us find that our lives after quitting and going through the grief are improved.
There are 5 main stages of this process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
  1. Denial – when smokers truly believe that the ‘smokers’ cough’ and other health issues are not related to smoking at all.
  2. In smokers’ world anger is often directed at health professionals who advise on quitting, as they usually make the diagnosis.
  3. Bargaining is quite often related to health professionals too – ‘if only they’d told me to quit sooner’ or people become more spiritual and start bargain with God ‘I’ll definitely quit if only you take this cancer away’.
  4. Depression results is overwhelming feeling of helplessness and is probably the first stage of taking ownership for the situation, realisation of responsibility for own bad health as a result of own choice to smoke.
  5. Acceptance comes when responsibility is taken on and there’s an understanding of what needs to be done next, smokers start to accept their situation and are ready to make choices – quit or not to quit.

Symptoms of grief

Symptoms of grief can be physical (such headaches), psychological (anger, worry, guilt) and spiritual (such as questioning belief in God). Low mood/ depressive episode can be related to more practical side of quitting. This includes “I can’t imagine living without my cigarettes” and not being able to go throughout a day and normal routines without lighting one up. Secondly, it can be associated with positive feelings (pleasure or happiness) hence giving up can feel like a separation from these positive feelings. However, when acceptance comes we are able to find or create new habits and coping mechanism which can bring such positive and happy feelings too.
Written by One You Cheshire East Coach, Karolina Ayers

Your smoking cessation coach can help you to cope with your withdrawal symptoms and keep you motivated during your quit. Sign up to Be Smoke Free for free support during your quit.


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