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We all know Ramadan does not only mean fasting without food or water, but also stopping smoking and drinking coffee or tea for as long as 15 hours daily. This can become really hard for people who have gotten used to their morning cigarette or for those of us who need a strong espresso shot before the day begins.

Here's what happens when someone suddenly stops smoking or consuming caffeine, and how to cope with the issues that come with such drastic changes.

What is 'withdrawal'?

Often associated with illegal drugs and other addictive substances, withdrawal or withdrawal symptoms refer to the body’s reaction to a sudden and drastic reduction in intake of the substances. While some of these reactions are manageable, others can affect daily life, mobility and mental health.

Don't think you can have withdrawal symptoms? Try stopping your daily dose of sugar in coffee - headaches, slight dizziness, cravings - unless you have other medical conditions, your body is going through withdrawal. 

Smoking or caffeine addiction

Smoking is something people can get easily addicted to and affected by even though the dangers are advertised on the product itself. While chain smoking might be considered more of an addiction than one cigarette a day – even that single smoke counts as addiction if you cannot do without it.

Another addiction people have, without thinking of it as such, is of caffeine. Tea, coffee, carbonated drinks, energy drinks – all of these fluids have various levels of caffeine. In small amounts caffeine is harmless and even boosts health and metabolism.

However, addiction is usually the case for many people who regularly consume caffeine, and weaning off usually brings on withdrawal symptoms.

Nicotine withdrawal during Ramadan

The substance in cigarettes that people get addicted to is nicotine.

Smokers who stop during Ramadan may experience withdrawal symptoms 3 to 5 days within stopping, including irritability, anger and difficulty in concentrating. They might also crave smoking so much that they chain smoke after ending their fast, inhaling a lot of smoke in a very short time, and right after a possibly heavy iftar meal.

The urge to binge on carb-heavy foods to avoid smoking is another side effect – leading to weight gain.

Apart from the physical withdrawal symptoms that may last for many days, the psychological aspect of the urge to smoke may last longer, leading to relapses.

There is also the myth that traditional shisha is a healthier option. Ramadan is a time when people smoke shisha for hours socialising after ending their fast in iftar tents or restaurants. This can be more dangerous than regular smoking.

Quitting smoking for Ramadan and then forever

Ramadan could be just the best time to quit smoking for good.

“In addition to the fasting aspect, the fact that most people do control smoking for over 14 hours is proof of the fact that they can try, and quit for good. Long hours of fasting lead to a drop in the nicotine level in the blood making it much easier for smokers to quit”, Dr Mustafa Saif, a specialist in internal medicine practicing in the UAE, told Gulf News in an earlier interview. Here are the tips he had for smokers:

- Use nicotine patches if you need to during the month of Ramadan as these can control the withdrawal symptoms and help quit the unhealthy habit in time.

- Supplement unhealthy food at the end of the fast with healthier options like carrots, cucumber and other fibrous food to avoid over indulging on the carb-heavy iftar favourites.

- Start the iftar meal with soup to help feel fuller and avoid carbohydrate-rich food

- Take a resolution to quit as nothing is stronger than the will to quit smoking

Caffeine withdrawal during Ramadan

A lot of people rely on coffee to start their day, they feel alert and fresh once they sip their morning coffee.

Caffeine is the most commonly abused drug which is consumable only in certain amounts.

- Dr. Mustafa Saif

Caffeine addicts complain of severe headaches during the initial days of Ramadan until they get used to the routine. They experience withdrawal symptoms like tiredness, lethargy, irritability, lack of concentration, insomnia, anxiety and dizziness.

Coping mechanism

- Start practicing early; caffeine addicts must reduce their daily caffeine intake before the onset of Ramadan.

- A strong cup of coffee or tea during suhoor can help avoid headaches during the day.

- Try and avoid coffee all together for Ramadan, during or after iftar as well, as the excess intake of caffeine leads to dehydration and increases thirst.

4 Perks of a “Smoke-free” Life

E-cigarettes and other smoke-free product alternatives have become a growing consideration among cigarette smokers who want to enjoy their lifestyle but with a reduction in risk. Here are four lifestyle perks if you have given up cigarettes for a smoke-free product, or have given up smoking altogether:

1. A lifestyle choice

The best thing a smoker can do for their health is to discontinue all use of tobacco. However, for those that want to continue to use tobacco or nicotine, smoke-free tobacco products and e-cigarettes could be a viable option. Because these innovative tobacco and nicotine products do not burn, there are significantly lower levels of toxicants produced in the vapour making these products potentially less harmful than cigarettes.

2. Second-hand smoke is a thing of the past

Since tobacco vapour and e-cigarettes don’t produce ‘smoke,’ the lingering smell of smoke and the smoke all together is a consideration of the past. They also do not have a negative impact on the quality of the air around the user. Therefore, users of smoke-free products will feel more comfortable around their colleagues and friends and vice-versa.

3. No more 'smoker's house' or 'smoker's car'

Close your eyes and imagine that your house actually smells like your house and your car doesn’t lose that sought-after ‘new car’ scent. You may wish to indulge in tobacco but you don’t have to smell it with every step you take. 

4. No ash, no fire

One of the most important environmental benefits of switching to e-cigarettes is that there is no ash. E-cigarettes don’t use fire to heat the tobacco, so no ash is produced whatsoever. When it comes to discarding them, you don’t have to worry about stubbing out the embers or if you’re in a safe enough location to do so without accidentally causing a fire. This will help reduce litter and increase cleanliness in your surroundings. Even with other smoke-free tobacco products, the waste is minimal and what’s better is when it is done, you can walk away with a clean conscience as the odds are reduced.