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How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your System?

Nicotine in Your System

More and more, nicotine is becoming an expensive habit. In addition to the rising taxes on nicotine products, some employers and insurance companies are demanding nicotine testing in order to qualify for job positions or for insurance. Nicotine users also face increased health care premiums as use is connected with heart disease and a host of other health risks.

While nicotine use through cigarette smoking has dropped from 43% in 1983 to 30% in 2012, smoking is still seen as a costly health issue – smoking related illnesses cost the US $300 bn per year according to the CDC.

If you should face taking a nicotine test, or if you are looking to quit smoking and want to have an informed discussion with your doctor, here are some facts that can help you understand how nicotine in your system works and how long it takes to clear from your body.

How nicotine affects the body 

Most people consume nicotine by smoking or via e-cigarettes, or “vaping”. A typical cigarette contains 1 gram of tobacco and 8 mg of nicotine. Nicotine from smoking passes the blood-brain barrier in about 20 seconds. Nicotine in your system acts as a stimulant, increasing heart rate, adrenaline production, and causing an increase in dopamine production. 

Nicotine is used as a mood altering chemical, and users report that nicotine creates a relaxing feeling even though the drug increases heart rate. Nicotine users start evidencing withdrawal symptoms in 2 hours after use. These symptoms include moodiness, irritability and cravings. Withdrawal symptoms can last for up to 3 weeks.

Nicotine addiction is extremely hard to break because of how it affects dopamine production in the human body, increasing it and engaging in a difficult to break use-reward cycle. 


Physician supported programs that use nicotine products designed to gradually reduce intake have shown greater success than simply going “cold turkey”. These products include such things as nicotine gum and patches.


Factors that impact how long nicotine stays in your system

How many days does nicotine stay in your system?

When nicotine is inhaled, an increase in adrenaline and a release of dopamine takes place in about 20 seconds. Nicotine in your system can be detected by various tests, and usually takes up to 4 days to metabolize, being expelled primarily in urine. Most tests do not detect nicotine directly, but instead detect a metabolized byproduct of nicotine called cotinine, which appears after nicotine is metabolized by the liver and kidneys.

How long does cotinine stay in the body?


While nicotine leaves the body in 1 to 3 days, cotinine, the byproduct which shows up on blood, urine, and saliva tests, remains in the body for up to 10 days. 

Ways to test for nicotine


Nicotine can be detected by various tests. These are divided into Instant and Lab tests. Instant tests can be administered at home or at an office and have the advantage of being less expensive. They also take less time than a lab test. On the other hand, an instant test administered by an employer will not hold up in court. Expect that an employer or health insurance provider will administer lab drug testing that will be able to hold up before a court of law. Most often these will be urine tests, but there is the possibility that a blood, saliva, or hair follicle test may be asked for. Blood and urine tests have a detection window between two and four days, saliva between one and four days, and a hair follicle test up to 90 days. So, the length of time for nicotine to leave your system can be complicated, depending on the test you take.

How long is nicotine in your system?

While nicotine’s half life window only blasts for about two hours (the “high” from nicotine) nicotine and it’s metabolized byproducts, such as cotinine, can stay in the body for up to 5 days and be detected by tests. So, the time it takes for nicotine to be out of your system and for it to be metabolized can be a serious issue.


Nearly all instant tests will be either urine or saliva tests. Employers will most likely be testing for multiple substances as part of their regular compliance protocol. Laws vary by state, but you should be able to find out what kind of test you are obligated to take. Of course, if your test is part of a program with your doctor to help you quit smoking, they will tell you.


Also note that false positives will be lower with a lab test. This is why health insurers and employers favor these tests.


Other factors, such as age, weight, how much you exercise, and how much you use nicotine, can influence how long it can stay in your body.


How to get nicotine out of your system

While it takes nicotine on average 5 days to completely clear your system, here are some tips to help make the process faster:


  • Exercise. Greater metabolic activity will process nicotine faster. As is reasonable for your health, exercise can help you cleanse nicotine and its associated byproducts from your body, and help you resist withdrawal cravings.
  • Hydration. Water is good for you, and being properly hydrated helps the metabolic process. Hydration also helps with body aches and irritability associated with withdrawal from nicotine.
  • Eating right. Antioxidant foods can help you properly metabolize nicotine out of your system, while also restoring the balance of vitamins and nutrients your body needs.


Understanding what a nicotine test means

Nicotine is an addictive drug, and everyone has a different body. Whether or not you are taking an employer-mandated drug test, or you are actively trying to quit smoking and need to establish a physical baseline, it’s important to understand how drug testing works. It’s also best to be frank with your employer or other test administrator about your pre-existing nicotine addiction, and work with your doctor on a smoke cessation program.

There are employer and public programs that can help you with nicotine addiction. We at Countrywide Testing have a wide array of options that can help you and your health care provider treat nicotine addiction and increase your quality of life. Contact us today via 469-389-2120 or by using our contact form!