Most people are aware of the negative effects that smoking has on physical health. It is associated with an increased risk for cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other serious health conditions. However, chemicals such as nicotine and other tobacco products, can also impact a person’s mood and mental health. While smoking rates have declined, they continue to be substantially higher among people who have a mental illness. There are plenty of effects of smoking on mental health.
Smoking and mental health have a complicated relationship. Chemicals in cigarettes can negatively impact a person’s mental health. But, people who have mental illnesses may be more vulnerable to the addictive properties of cigarettes. Smoking is more commonplace among people with schizophrenia, attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), general anxiety disorder.
Here, we’ll explore the complex relationship between tobacco products that contain nicotine and mental health. When people are aware of smoking risks, they can take the necessary steps to kick their smoking habit.
It Feels Good: Smoking and Its Chemical Lure
People don’t begin and continue to smoke because it feels unpleasant. The fact is, smoking can feel pretty good. Chemicals in cigarettes like nicotine can actually improve a person’s focus and alleviate stress. How many times have you passed an office building and seen at least one worker outside taking a smoking break? According to the American Psychological Association, these ‘benefits’ like improved alertness and stress reduction are short-lived. Still, they provide some respite from negative feelings, and that respite can help pave a path to addiction. Unfortunately, the ‘feel-good’ nature of these products is misleading because smoking undermines physical and mental health.
Cigarettes and Addiction
To understand the hold that smoking has people, one has to learn how addiction works. When it comes to substance addiction, you not only become physically addicted, but also develop mental and behavioral dependencies too. Cigarettes are notoriously addictive. So, they aren’t merely physically addicted to nicotine, but also psychologically. And, many of their behaviors are governed by their smoking habit. The smoke break, for instance, is a behavioral habit. They might smoke after a meal or at certain times of day.
Becoming addicted to chemicals in cigarettes, makes it difficult and just about impossible to stop. In fact, many people diagnosed with serious lung conditions may continue to smoke even though they know it’s causing their health to rapidly deteriorate. When a person suffers from a substance addiction, they can’t stop using without some form of intervention or treatment.
It’s important for people to remember that addiction is a multi-type condition that doesn’t only involve physical dependence. Psychological and behavioral aspects of smoking can be every bit as powerful. These are often the aspects of the habit that lead to relapse.
Smoking as a Way to Self-Medicate
People often enjoy smoking because of the temporary relief from stress that it provides. A person might feel upset, take a smoke break, and then feel somewhat better. While their relief may be brief, it’s still long enough for the person to crave it. By repeatedly smoking when feeling stressed, a person develops an unhealthy reliance on an unhealthy habit. It’s the same principle that also governs drinking to alleviate stress. Smoking and drinking to ‘medicate’ away stress can have serious mental health consequences that result in addiction.
If one has a mental health conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, they may crave temporary respite from their symptoms. Chemicals in tobacco products don’t treat these serious mental health conditions, but they can mask some of the symptoms. This makes smoking powerfully alluring.
Can Smoking Cause Mental Illness?
The Journal of Psychological Neuroscience reported evidence that smoking can contribute to the development or progression of some mental health conditions. These include ADHD and dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Research has also suggested that smoking can be a factor in depression among people who are already vulnerable to depression.
Chronic smoking has also been linked to a decline in cognitive function. Particularly in middle-aged and elderly adults. Smoking these products can lead to the loss of gray matter in the brain and cortical thinning. Reduced functionality in areas of the brain can trigger mental illness to develop. The fact is, nicotine changes the brain’s chemistry and disrupts neural functions that are associated with many psychiatric disorders.
Effective Mental Health Management
Ending a smoking habit is good for both the brain and body. We will employ more effective and healthy strategies to manage their mental health condition and its symptoms.
The truth is, nicotine might eliminate stress or mask certain mental health symptoms for a short period of time. Still, such chemicals are nowhere near as effective as other medications specifically designed to treat mental health conditions.
Not only is smoking less effective than the proper medications, but it will also cause the continued deterioration of both mental and physical health. If you live with a mental illness and smoking, you can get help managing your condition and ceasing your smoking habit.
Mental Health Center of San Diego provides treatment for various mental health conditions, including ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others. Its clinicians can help you find the ideal treatments for your mental health condition so that you can focus on kicking your smoking habit.