Kicking the Habit, Cold Turkey, and My Very Own Private Hell

fortune-cookie-testAs I slid the last Copenhagen wintergreen smokeless tobacco pouch into my mouth, I looked at the thunderstorms dancing on the horizon. 

As the nicotine slowly coursed through my veins, I remember thinking, “the next couple of weeks are going to be absolute hell.” 

That was the last coherent thought I had for nearly two weeks. 

There was no backing out.  My classes were finished for the semester, there was a natural lull in my work schedule, and ahead was a three day weekend.   It was the best time to quit and try to detox before my schedule heated up again.

But I implicitly knew it was going to be a lot tougher this time, but I didn’t realize how tough it was going to be.  The last time I quit tobacco was years ago — I quit smoking and packed on the pounds.  Dip and chew contain a lot more nicotine than cigarettes; a cigarette has about .5 mg nicotine; a single Copenhagen tobacco pouch has 11.2 mg/g nicotine (6.8 mg/g free nicotine).

Day 1.  I woke up and slapped on a 21mg nicotine patch.  The first day was uneventful until the afternoon.  Phantom hunger pains and mild fidgety nervous energy filled my hours.  I was mildly distracted, but other than that I was able to focus on my work.  I was overtaken by fatigue and ended going to bed early.

Day 2. Withdrawal starts to really hit.  I had more nervous energy, fatigue, anxiety, and brain fog.  Time appeared to slow down as I counted the minutes until I could go home.  I felt miserable. 

Day 3. Feeling better, adjusting to 21mg, but brain fog and a general lack of motivation, anxiety, fatigue, and crazy dreams.

Quitting Cold Turkey

I realized that if I continued using the nicotine patches, it would be weeks of withdrawal.  I made the decision to go cold turkey and toss the patches in the trash.

The first three days were pure hell.  The next several days weren’t so good either.

Cold Turkey Day 1. Saturday morning I awoke, and promptly went back to sleep.  I was highly irritable, fatigued, and suffered chills/shivers.  I also had heart burn and mild nausea. 

Cold Turkey Day 2.  Withdrawal hits like a freight train.  This is where I stopped being able to regulate my body temperature.  Hot flashes, where my arms feel heat radiating from them.  Later I would get the chills.  I experienced terrible jitteriness, cold intolerance, hot flashes, sweating, fatigue and nausea.  I spent most of the day in bed.  I couldn’t get enough sleep.

Cold Turkey Day 3.  Memorial day.  Full on flu-like symptoms.  I spent the day restlessly watching TV, angry, irritated, depressed, as I restlessly waited. 

At the 72 hours mark, over 90% of all nicotine metabolites should be gone.  Honestly, I didn’t get any cravings for nicotine, just the general feeling of being unwell.


Cold Turkey Day 4.  A rainbow of human emotion, drifting from near psychotic rage, depression, anger, anxiety, and debilitating fatigue.  Most troublesome is the brain fog – the inability to concentrate or think.  Muscle coordination seems to have been affected.  Somehow I managed to get through the workday.


I’m now at 18 days and counting.  I’ve already saved $58.5, not counting the endless trips to the corner gas station.

The next milestone is 21 days, where the number of acetylcholine receptors are down-regulated to match the levels seen in the brains of non-smokers (i.e., the physiological effects of nicotine are almost entirely reversed).

At 8 weeks, insulin resistance should have normalized.

In any event, quitting tobacco and dealing with the nicotine withdrawal has consumed my life for the last several weeks.  It has been more difficult than I expected.