Smoking and Mental Health

A majority of adults in UK know the risks associated with smoking but studies have shown that smoking also has an effect on the mental health. There are many reasons why someone would take up smoking and being able to understand why may help those smokers who want to stop.

Reasons for smoking

Biological factors – refers to how the brain would react to nicotine. If someone smokes, the nicotine content goes to the brain in just ten seconds. During the first moments, nicotine would improve the mood and concentration and reduce stress and anger. It can also relax the muscles and reduce the person’s appetite. If the person regularly consumes nicotine, this would lead to changes in the brain. Once the person stops, he would feel the withdrawal symptoms if the nicotine decreases. Some smokers resort to smoking again to reduce the withdrawal symptoms but they begin their habit again. This becomes a cycle to which they become dependent on nicotine.

Psychological and social factors – a lot of young people tend to experiment with cigarettes. If this habit is also reinforced, the person would become a chain smoker. Having friends and family members who smoke would also contribute to this situation. Once the young people grow up, they would start to abuse alcohol and drugs or be in poverty. These events push the person to become highly stressed. A lot of adults would say that they have developed the habit of smoking because it helps them cope up with stress and to relax.

Smoking, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and stress

Self-medication is the term used to describe how some people smoke to reduce their stress. Stress is prevalent especially if we are unable to cope up with it. It can produce physical symptoms such as breathlessness or headaches, anxious, sad or irritable. These negative feelings change our feeling and behaviour. It also makes some people resort to drinking or smoking casually and then habitually. Chronic, long-term stress is associated with depression and anxiety. Contrary to what regular smokers would say, smoking increases tension and anxiety. Although nicotine can make a person feel relaxed, it is only temporary and this also increases the person’s craving for nicotine. Smoking does not deal with the underlying causes of depression and anxiety.

Adults suffering from depression are twice more likely to smoke in UK. Those with depression find it hard to quit smoking and they end up having severe withdrawal symptoms. Nicotine acts by stimulating the release of dopamine in the brain which makes us feel better and relaxed. Depressed people have low amounts of dopamine so they smoke to temporarily increase their ‘feel good’ chemical which is dopamine. But once the nicotine enters the brain, the brain switches off if own dopamine supply. This leads to a much lowered dopamine supply by the brain so the person resorts to smoking more. It is not fully understood is smoking causes depression or if depression causes someone to smoke. Nevertheless, there is a strong association with these two.

Schizophrenic people are thrice more likely to smoke heavily. Smoking is a tool which the schizophrenic people use to manage their symptoms and to reduce the ill side effects of their medications.

Smoking and improved mental health

A lot of people suffering from mental problems tend to smoke to lessen the symptoms of their conditions. But most of them start to smoke even before their problems have begun. Heavy smoking is not responsible for reducing the symptoms of mental problems. The disadvantages outweigh the benefits of smoking even for short time smoking as well. Higher smoking rates also indicate physical problems like lung cancer.

How to quit

Preparations for change

Using willpower is not enough for someone to quit smoking. To quit means to plan ahead, to have support and to choose the right time to start your plan. If the person is unstable or is unsure, then his attempt to quit may become useless. To prepare for your plan, try to write down your points and think of the following:

    • Realize what effect smoking has on your condition and motivate yourself to quit
    • What are the things that you can gain when you quit smoking? Think about your improved mental and physical state and the money that you will save.

Alternative ways to cope up with stress

Smoking is often used to cope up with stress so smokers need to find alternative ways to deal with stress if they want to quit smoking. The following methods may help:

  • breathing and meditation exercises
  • doing regular exercise
  • reducing amount of alcohol taken
  • proper diet
  • clinical hypnosis
  • acupuncture

Consulting and talking to someone you trust, like a family member or a friend can help ease your problems. Joining some religious and social activities can also help. Changing your routines may take a lot of effort and time so be patient and do not be disheartened if the process does not go well. Identify the source of your stress and deal with it without resorting to smoking.

Support from friends and family

Seek comfort from your friends and family and let them help you in any way. If you live with someone who smokes, quitting may prove to be difficult. You could talk to that person and convince him to quit the same time as you to make things easier. Or if the person does not want to quit, tell them not leave their cigarettes lying around. This may tempt you to start smoking again.

Avoid factors related to smoking

Take out the products or things that would be associated or make you remember about smoking. A lot of smokers tend to smoke after their meals or when they are in the pub. If you know what factors trigger your craving to smoke, avoid them or stop them. If this is successful, relapse is reduced.

Be prepared for withdrawal symptoms

The following are some of the withdrawal symptoms which you could experience:

  • headaches
  • irritability
  • nausea
  • anxiety
  • feeling miserable
  • craving cigarettes
  • hard to concentrate
  • drowsiness
  • increased appetite

The withdrawal symptoms peak after twelve to twenty four hours and would ease off for two or more weeks. There are ways to cope up with these symptoms:

  • drink water or fruit juice
  • eat high fibre foodstuff
  • reduce refined sugar and caffeine in the diet

Talk therapy

Group, phone or individual counselling helps some people to quit smoking. Talk therapies help people alter their behaviour by acting and thinking more positively. Many of these programmes use the cognitive behaviour therapy and some social skills development techniques. Studies have shown that talk therapies and cognitive behavioural therapy work well with smokers who have or may not have mental problems.

Medication and nicotine replacement therapy

Anti-depressants, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and other medications were shown to aid smokers without any mental problems, depression and schizophrenia to quit smoking. NRT if effective it is combined with talk therapy. Consult your doctor on what treatment most suits you.