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How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your System?

Some tests look for nicotine alone, and those are easier to pass. Your body can process pure nicotine in minutes or hours.

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Whether you smoke, vape, or chew, nicotine enters your system and sticks around until it’s processed. If you need to pass a test for work, an insurance program, or a drug-free facility, you could face tough days ahead. 

Nicotine can show up on a drug test for the following amounts of time:

  • Blood: up to 10 days
  • Urine: up to 10 days
  • Saliva: 4 days 
  • Hair: up to a year 
  • Breast milk: about 120 minutes

Help! I Need to Pass a Drug Test!

About 2 percent of employers test for drugs, and some include nicotine and its metabolites. If you’re hoping to take out a life insurance policy, you might also need to pass a test and prove that you don’t have a history of nicotine use.

Any product that contains nicotine could cause a positive test, including these:

  • Cigarettes
  • Vaping products containing nicotine
  • Nicotine-based chew 
  • Nicotine-replacement products, like gums and lozenges 

Companies can use qualitative testing to determine whether or not you’ve been exposed to nicotine. They could also use qualitative methods to determine how much nicotine you’ve taken in lately. 

During that metabolization process, your body will transform nicotine into another chemical, such as cotinine. Some drug testing companies look for cotinine, and those tests are harder to pass, as your body needs more time to clear that metabolite. 

Certain factors influence how much time you need to clear nicotine and its metabolites. They include the following:

  • Dosing: How much nicotine have you used lately? Did you take in products purposefully, or were you exposed to secondhand smoke? The more nicotine you’ve consumed, the longer it will stay in your system.
  • Sex: Women process nicotine faster than men do.
  • Age: Older people need more time to clear nicotine when compared to younger people. 
  • Race: Some studies suggest non-Hispanic white people clear nicotine faster than other races. 

Should I Try to Cheat?

You’ve been smoking recently, and you know how long nicotine stays in your system. You’ll never pass the test. Should you try cheating?

Many people try to pass drug tests by purchasing urine from other people, adding chemicals to their pee in the testing facility, or otherwise tampering with the samples they provide. Testing companies are aware that people cheat, and they run multiple quality checks to spot false samples.

If you cheat and get caught, the company will notify whoever ordered the test. That could mean losing your job, your insurance policy, or some other benefit you wanted.

In states like Mississippi, cheating on drug tests is against the law. If you cheat and get caught in these locations, you could face fines, jail time, or both.

Cheating is also simply unethical. It’s best to be upfront and honest about your tobacco use and look for ways to quit, so you can pass the next test with confidence.

Should I Quit to Pass a Test?

The best way to ensure that your nicotine drug test is clear is to stop using products weeks before the exam. Should you quit just to ensure you pass?

People who have used nicotine for a long time can develop withdrawal symptoms when they stop using, including these:

  • Cravings: You think about nicotine all the time and wonder how you can get more. It’s very difficult to resist these cravings.
  • Irritability: You feel grouchy and jumpy.
  • Distracted: You’re thinking about nicotine all the time, so you can’t think about anything else. 
  • Insomnia: Your mind races, and you can’t fall asleep. Cravings often take over your mind at night when you should be sleeping.
  • Hunger: Nicotine is an appetite suppressant, and when it’s removed, your hunger comes roaring back. You might gain weight due to overeating. Cigarettes and vaping products also kept your hands occupied. You might be tempted to fill your hands with snacks instead.
  • Emotional problems: You might feel sad, depressed, or anxious. 

A typical nicotine withdrawal timeline looks like this:

 SymptomsSeverity 
Day 1Restlessness, irritability, increased appetite Mild
Day 3Difficulty concentrating, changes in concentration, restlessness, cravingsSevere
End of week 3Cravings, weight gain, sleep changes, mood changesModerate 

Note that some people feel acute nicotine withdrawal for about a week. But you might not feel like yourself for several weeks. Sometimes, it takes longer. 

Knowing that you will experience withdrawal symptoms, quitting for a few weeks before your test is wise. We all know that quitting nicotine products is better for your overall health and your wallet. You could use this time to learn how to kick the habit for good. 

You could also visit your doctor and ask for a prescription for nicotine replacement products. These products can help you to quit nicotine use. You’ll use them in the short term and wean off them over time.

If you have a prescription for a nicotine replacement product, bring it to your drug testing appointment. The clinic should make a note of that, and your test result won’t be marked illicit. You’re just following your doctor’s orders. 

How to Quit Nicotine for Good

To stop using nicotine products, you’ll need a quit plan. According to SmokeFree.gov, you can build one by following these five steps:

1. Choose a quit date. Mark it on the calendar, and tell your friends and family you’re dedicated to making this change for your health.

2. Identify the costs. Determine how much you spend on smoking every week, and think of a new way to spend that money. When you’re tempted to return to tobacco, the money could entice you to stick with your plan.

3. Write down your reasons. List every prompt that’s encouraging you to quit tobacco. Be specific, and keep your notes somewhere nearby. You can read them when you’re tempted to slip.

4. Know your triggers. Determine when you smoke most often, whom you smoke with, and what makes you want to smoke. A counselor can help you find new ways to deal with these triggers.

5. Make it happen. When the big day arrives, toss your tobacco products and commit to living a new life.

You may feel irritable and upset when you quit smoking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this is normal. Your brain and body are adjusting to a lack of nicotine, and while you’re uncomfortable, it will pass.

Consider using medications to help you quit smoking, and work on new routines that make you feel good without lighting up.

If you’re struggling to stay tobacco free, consider one of the following resources:

  • Smokefree text messaging: Smokefree.gov offers several different types of text messaging programs, including versions for teenagers, veterans, and moms. Choose the one that’s right for you and get support on your phone.
  • National Cancer Institute LiveHelp: Connect with a resource specialist and get immediate information about how to quit smoking.
  • Call 800-Quit-Now: These state-run helplines connect you with counselors who can help you to move past difficult moments and stay tobacco free.

Why Should You Quit?

Quitting can help you pass a nicotine drug test. However, the benefits go far beyond walking out of a testing facility with confidence.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that 16 million Americans live with a disease caused by smoking. Tobacco has been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and lung disease.

If you smoke, you could be putting your family at risk too. Secondhand smoke leads to approximately 41,000 deaths in nonsmoking adults and 400 nonsmoking infants each year. By quitting, you could keep your family safer.

Updated February 12, 2024
Resources
  1. Drug Testing at Work Is a Thing of the Past, Study Finds. (August 2019). Forbes.
  2. Nicotine Testing: Common Questions (2012). Alere.
  3. Biomonitoring Summary. (April 2017). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  4. Seven Common Withdrawal Symptoms. (June 2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  5. Understanding Withdrawal. Smokefree.gov.
  6. Nicotine Replacement Therapy to Help You Quit Tobacco. (August 2021). American Cancer Society.
  7. How to Detect Drug Test Cheats. (March 2019). Today’s Clinical Lab.
  8. Mississippi Code 97-19-87. Case Text.
  9. uild My Quit Plan. BSmokeFree.gov.
  10. Why Quitting Smoking is Hard. (September 2023). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  11. Health Effects. (April 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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