We all know the physical health risks of smoking, but did you know that smoking also affects people’s mental health?

* Last updated March 9, 2021

If you are a smoker, there is a lot of support available to help you quit smoking. It’s never too late to give up, and you can see that giving up reduces your stress, anxiety, and depression levels.

Why is smoking so addictive?

When a person smokes, nicotine reaches the brain in about ten seconds. Initially, nicotine improves mood and concentration, reduces anger and stress, relaxes muscles and reduces appetite.

Regular doses of nicotine lead to changes in the brain, which lead to symptoms of nicotine withdrawal when the supply of nicotine is reduced. Smoking temporarily reduces the symptoms of smoking and can therefore strengthen the habit. This period means that most smokers are addicted to nicotine.

Smoking and stress

Some people smoke as a “self-medication” to reduce feelings of stress. However, research has shown that smoking actually increases anxiety and tension. Nicotine instantly creates a feeling of relief, so people smoke believing that it will reduce stress and anxiety. This feeling is temporary and soon gives way to withdrawal symptoms and increased passion. Smoking reduces the symptoms of smoking, but does not reduce anxiety or deal with the reasons why someone may feel this way.

Smoking and depression

Adults suffering from depression are twice as likely to smoke as adults without depression. Most people start smoking before the symptoms of depression appear, so it is not known whether smoking causes depression or whether depression encourages people to smoke. Most likely, there is a complicated connection between the two.

Nicotine stimulates the secretion of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved in triggering positive emotions. It is often found that people with depression have a lower rate, and they can then use cigarettes to temporarily increase their dopamine reserves. However, smoking stimulates the brain to turn off its mechanism to produce dopamine, thus reducing long-term supply, which in turn encourages people to smoke more.

People suffering from depression may have a particularly difficult time trying to stop smoking and have more severe withdrawal symptoms. Remember that if you decide to resign, there is a lot of support – you do not have to go it alone.

Smoking and schizophrenia

People with schizophrenia smoke three times more than other people and tend to smoke more. Most likely, this is because patients with schizophrenia use smoking to manage or manage some of the symptoms associated with the disease and to reduce some of the side effects of their medications.

A recent study showed that smoking can increase the risk of developing schizophrenia. However, further research is needed to fully understand how the two are related.

Ways to help you quit

The least effective way to quit smoking is to stop smoking suddenly. If you plan ahead, have support, and choose the right time to try, you are more likely to succeed. If you feel unstable, have a crisis, or are experiencing significant changes in your life, you are less likely to quit.

If you are taking antidepressants or antipsychotics, talk to your doctor or psychiatrist before you stop smoking. The dose you take should be monitored and the amount you need to take can be reduced. This is because smoking lowers the levels of some drugs in the blood, so you may need a lower dose when you quit smoking.

Be prepared for change

Think about your relationship with smoking. Write down what you will gain by not smoking as more money to spend on better physical health, fresher breathing, improved concentration, and more.

Get support from family and friends

Quitting smoking can be easier with the support of family and friends. If you live with people who smoke or have friends who smoke, offer to give them up together. If other members of the household smoke, encourage them not to smoke around you or to place cigarettes, ashtrays, or lighters where you can see them.

Find other ways to cope with stress

If you use smoking to cope with stress, you need to find other ways to deal with it. Some of the things that people consider useful are meditation and breathing exercises, regular exercise, abstinence from alcohol, eating a balanced diet, acupuncture and hypnosis. Counseling or simply talking to a supportive friend, family member, or religious or spiritual leader can also help.

Find a local service to stop smoking

If you use the smoking cessation service, you are three times more likely to quit smoking successfully. They offer free one-on-one or group support with medications to stop smoking. You usually go once a week for a few weeks before quitting, then for four weeks after the last cigarette.

Talk to your GP

Many people are unaware that their doctors can help them quit smoking. They may refer you to a smoking cessation clinic, or prescribe nicotine replacement therapy, or stop smoking.

Nicotine replacement therapy and medications

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), antidepressants, and other medications have all been shown to help smokers who do not have mental health problems stop smoking, and they may also be helpful for patients with depression or schizophrenia. NRT appears to be more effective when combined with speech therapy.

You can also look at e-cigarettes. They are safer than smoking and can help people quit smoking.

Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or health visitor about which treatments may be right for you.

Speech therapies

Individual, group, or telephone counseling can help people quit smoking. Speech therapies can help people change their behavior by thinking and acting more positively. Many counseling programs use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and social skills development techniques. Studies show that CBT can be especially effective in smokers with or without mental health problems.

Avoid smoking-related triggers

Removing all tobacco products from your home can help reduce some of your cravings for nicotine withdrawal.

Learn to recognize your smoking triggers. Determine when you smoke at a party or after a meal. If possible, try to avoid these situations or plan ways to resist triggers that you can’t prevent. Most requests only take a few minutes. If you can throw them out, you’ll be closer to leaving once and for all.

Be prepared for withdrawal symptoms

You may experience headaches, nausea, irritability, anxiety, desire to smoke, feeling unwell, difficulty concentrating, increased appetite, and drowsiness. Drinking more fresh fruit juice or water, eating more fiber, and reducing caffeine and refined sugar in your diet can help you cope with withdrawal symptoms.

If you repeat, do not give up

Many people who quit smoking will be repeated at some point. Don’t hesitate to try again. Use it as an opportunity to think about what’s wrong, learn about yourself, and understand what will help you be more successful in the future.

Additional help and support

In the UK, call the National Non-Smoking Helpline at 0300 123 1044 or visit the NHS website. If English is not your first language, you can call the helpline and ask to speak with an interpreter for the language you need.