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Can I Experience Nicotine Withdrawal From Secondhand Smoke: A Doctor Answers

DrSugar Answers: Nicotine Withdrawal From Secondhand Smoke?

DrSugar is in the house! And she's answering your health-related questions.

Dear DrSugar,
My partner has been smoking since he was in high school and he is 27 now. He has been smoking about two packs a day and is trying to stop. This weekend he has cut down on the amount he smokes. Last night, both he and I had trouble staying asleep. I was wondering if his smoking has been affecting me too? And what side effects would I have for just being around him when he smokes?
Secondhand Smoker

I commend your partner on trying to quit smoking, not only for his health, but also for yours. Nicotine (the main drug component in tobacco) dependence is a serious problem, and according to Medline Plus, it has a potential for addiction similar to alcohol, cocaine, and morphine. Dependence on nicotine means that a person cannot stop using tobacco products, despite the products causing them likely harm. According to the Mayo Clinic, nicotine produces physical and mood-altering effects in your brain that are temporarily pleasing. These effects typically make you want to continue using tobacco and can lead to dependence. However, stopping tobacco can lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, which it sounds like your partner is experiencing. To learn more about nicotine withdrawal symptoms and the issues surrounding secondhand smoke, keep reading!

Almost all people who try to quit smoking tobacco have some form of nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Generally speaking, those who have smoked for longer periods of time or smoked greater amounts of tobacco products are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal start within two to three hours after the last tobacco use and peak about two to three days later. Symptoms may be severe, depending on how long and how much one smoked. Common symptoms include an intense craving for nicotine, anxiety, tension, restlessness, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, headaches, increased appetite/weight gain, and irritability.


It is highly likely that your partner's smoking is affecting you. The effects you experience because of his smoking around you are due to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke, according to the American Cancer Society, includes two types of smoke, the smoke that is exhaled by the smoker and the smoke burning from the tobacco product. Nonsmokers who breathe in secondhand smoke take in nicotine and other toxic chemicals, just like smokers do. The more secondhand smoke you are exposed to, the higher the levels of nicotine and toxic chemicals in your body. Research has shown that it is possible to become dependent on tobacco and nicotine without smoking as a result of being around smokers repeatedly, according to a report from Medical News Today. Thus, even if you have never smoked, you can develop dependence on nicotine and thus experience withdrawal symptoms. The Mayo Clinic explains, secondhand smoke can cause and lead to serious health problems, including lung disease, heart disease, cancer, and low birth weight babies.

Nicotine withdrawal is usually short-lived and symptoms will pass over time, usually within less than a week. However, nicotine supplements (gum, patches, etc.), support groups, and certain prescription medications can be used to help with withdrawal symptoms and with long-term cessation of nicotine and tobacco products.

As I stated before, I commend your partner on trying to cut back on the amount of tobacco he smokes. For his health and for yours, I do hope he is able to quit for good. This column on the benefits of quitting smoking will give you and your partner more information. In the meantime, you can avoid secondhand smoke by not allowing smoking in your home, vehicle, and around or near you. You can also offer support and encouragement to your partner to continue to cut back and quit! Also, if you and your partner continue to experience severe withdrawal symptoms or need help quitting, getting help from a medical professional may be of benefit to you both!

Have a question for DrSugar? You can send it to me via private message here, and I will forward it to the good doctor.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

Join The Conversation
Zafrio Zafrio 5 years
So its day 13 since my last smoke from almost smoking for two years and the symtoms are basically dying out on my (tightness in chest, chest pains, dizziness, and gas) and I've been drinking a lot of water. But today I was around my boss that smokes and was smoking around me in his car and I'm starting to feel the symtoms again like it was two weeks ago. I'm just wondering if this happens and how long with this symtoms last for?\u00a0
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