What Happens When You Stop Smoking? How Your Body Heals

The human body is a marvelously resilient thing. The body can come back from injuries, infections, poisonings, and more with the proper time and treatment. We can take on excess weight, but with hard work, take it back off. Even mental illnesses don’t have to represent insurmountable challenges to the restorative capacities of the human body and the perseverance of the human mind.

We take wear and tear, bumps and bruises, and bad accidents along the way in life. But there are few activities we can do that are as deleterious to our body as regularly smoking tobacco. Whether smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipe tobacco, the short-term and long-term effects of this highly addictive behavior represent nothing but trouble for nearly every system of the human body. Not only does smoking damage the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, but it also doesn’t spare the nervous, endocrine, immune, and integumentary systems. One could say that cigarettes are the only product on the market that, when used as directed, kills the user. Even electronic cigarettes, which substitute combustible plant manner for concentrated nicotine and propylene glycol, are the subject of research that indicates they may not be as harmless as we once thought.

Still, with time to heal and a massive amount of dedication to stop damaging their entire body, people who struggle with tobacco use can overcome their addiction and repair the damage they’ve done to themselves over the years. While it may take years to fully recover, the recovery is well worth the wait. Today, we’ll look at what happens when you stop smoking and how your body heals.

Immediate Benefits

It doesn’t take long to start enjoying the benefits of smoking cessation—30 minutes may be all it takes to begin. Smoking as a delivery system means that nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes act upon the body very quickly, and, in turn, their psychoactive effects wear off quickly as well. This short burst from every single cigarette is part of what gave rise to the pack-a-day smoker. Within 30 minutes to an hour of smoking your last cigarette, you’ll find that your blood pressure and heart rate will both subside considerably. This is important given the quietly insidious nature of hypertension, which is common in regular smokers and leads to a host of health complications. Over the course of your first day without cigarettes, your body continues its journey toward recuperation, flushing out dangerous carbon monoxide and enabling your blood to distribute more oxygen. By the 24-hour mark, your body should have fully metabolized any remaining nicotine.

Nicotine Withdrawal: Struggles Along the Way

It’s highly beneficial not to have nicotine in your bloodstream, but its highly addictive properties can represent a speed bump on the road to recovery. Nicotine withdrawal is a psychological and physical hurdle. A smoker’s body and mind will have become dependent upon it since nicotine effectively rewires neural pathways, creating more dopamine-releasing nicotine receptors in the brain. When the brain no longer receives the nicotine it expects, ex-smokers experience not only strong cravings for more nicotine but also headaches, sleep disturbance, and anxiety. Cravings go beyond nicotine—without the extra dopamine to keep you sated, you’ll find yourself hungry for snacks and perhaps pack on the pounds in the process. After a week without nicotine, the worst symptoms will have passed, but you may experience residual withdrawal symptoms as your body detoxifies and repairs for several more weeks.

Medium-Term Repairs: Year One

The first year after you quit smoking is a critical one. In this timespan, the respiratory and cardiovascular systems make some of their most important recoveries. You’ll breathe more deeply, and while no one enjoys coughing, your “smoker’s cough” will give way to a fuller expectoration that’s effective in expelling mucus from the body. During this year, blood vessels will repair themselves. A full year without smoking also halves your risk of a heart attack.

Long-Term Healing

While your body largely recovers from most effects of smoking after a year, long-term tobacco use requires long-term healing. In the following years, the final chapters of what happens when you stop smoking, your body heals in highly significant ways. Ex-smokers will see their risks of developing cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and lungs—the areas where tobacco smoke makes the most contact—diminish to something approaching normal levels. With less plaque in your bloodstream, your risk of stroke will be that of a nonsmoker after as little as five years of cessation. After 15 years, it’s likely that it will be almost as if you’d never started smoking at all.

Oxygen Use and Smoking

While voluntarily quitting smoking can make a significant improvement in quality of life, sometimes, the onset of COPD demands it. Many patients with respiratory difficulties find themselves relying on supplemental oxygen due to severe lung damage. Bridge to Care offers supplemental oxygen concentrators in stationary and portable forms, with pre-owned units also available to help you buy an oxygen concentrator machine.

To conclude, there are a few notes on balancing oxygen therapy with smoking. Simply put, you cannot balance the two. Supplemental oxygen can give patients a new lease on life. What it doesn’t do is give smokers a new lease on smoking. Not only does continued smoking while on oxygen counteract the benefits of therapy, but continued tobacco use also aggravates existing lung damage—and that’s the last thing you want with progressive pulmonary disease. Also, bear in mind the flammability of oxygen. Smoking in proximity to your oxygen cannula while the concentrator is operating is highly dangerous. Even turning it off in order to smoke can be perilous—the concentrated oxygen that you don’t inhale from the cannula permeates your clothing, hair, and even your skin, where it could easily ignite near an open flame. To put it simply, do not smoke while on oxygen, and do not allow others near you to do the same. If you’re having trouble quitting, look for smoking cessation products that will help ease your transition. Breathing is a right—so you should allow yourself that full right.

What Happens When You Stop Smoking? How Your Body Heals