Can Smoking Cause Mental Illness? What To Know

It is no secret at this point that everyone knows that smoking is bad for you.

Not only has the toxic nature of tobacco and nicotine been identified for close to a hundred years, but extensive studies in the last 50 to 60 years have only confirmed just how bad tobacco and nicotine can be for your body.

Raised blood pressure, increased risk of cardiovascular illnesses, heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, and deteriorating dental health. The list is as long as it is gruesome.

And, if all those illnesses weren’t already bad enough, as well as the grueling journey that it takes to go clean, researchers in the past few years have also started analyzing the relationship between tobacco and emotional or mental health.

This might be even more disheartening if you are still a smoker, and you’re worried about when the best time to start is. Hearing more unfortunate news about our habits makes us want to just shut ourselves off from hearing about it.

However, sometimes we should know what we are getting ourselves into, before making the best decision for you and your health.

With that in mind, we are going to discuss some of the links that have been found between smoking and various psychological problems and illnesses, as well as what exactly makes smoking so addictive, and what often makes it exacerbates our already existing problems.

We’ll also discuss some of the ways that you can begin to stop smoking today or shortly.

Links Between Smoking And Mental Illness

So, to begin with, let us establish if there are any links between mental health and smoking in general.

For example, many people may wonder if having a mental illness makes a person more likely to smoke, or if smoking has some effect on whether you will develop some time of psychological issue.

There have been a variety of studies that have shown that having some kind of mental illness will also likely affect how likely you are to take up smoking as a type of coping mechanism.

As an example, survey data was taken from both the United States and Australia was analyzed in a survey in 2009, that compared the numbers of morbidity and mortality rates between smokers who had been diagnosed with one of several known mental disorders, and those that were not diagnosed with any psychological issues recognized by the ICD-10.

Among the mental illnesses that were known and involved in the study were many well-known psychological issues, such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, and Depression.

The study found that, for smokers who did have psychological issues, the rate at which the members of the sample smoked were twice as high as the number of smokers who did not have any known mental illnesses.

This means that statistically at least, people who have mental illnesses were around twice as likely to be smokers as people with no psychological issues.

This probably isn’t surprising to a lot of people. As we mentioned earlier, the idea that people with mental health disorders try to self-medicate their moods and behavior somewhat by smoking is a well-established belief that many people have, and isn’t exactly a groundbreaking study in itself.

Information like this also doesn’t necessarily establish what the relationship is between many of the people involved.

It doesn’t exactly answer whether or not a person who already had a psychological issue was likely to take up smoking, or if smokers were likely to develop psychological issues because of their habit.

Where information does get very interesting on this topic is when researchers have tried to establish what exactly that link is.

How Does Smoking Contribute To Mental Illness?

So, we know that individuals with psychological issues are more likely to smoke than the rest of the population. But does one cause the other, or are they less directly linked than that?

To find out if such a link does exist, researchers compared a recordset of just over 462,000 people, where the agreed participants were asked to provide samples to get a sense of their medical history, as well as asking them whether they were current smokers, non-smoker, or somewhere in-between (i.e. people who had smoked one cigarette but stopped after), as well as other valuable data, such as when they stopped if they were former smokers, and how many cigarettes they smoked a day.

With that information, the researchers created a type of index that would allow them to track their health, and how and if smoking affected it if they were smokers.

Mental illnesses that any patients had, such as if they self-reported having issues with depression, or whether they were given an official health diagnosis by a health professional for cases of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as depression.

The Results

What the researchers found was very surprising. Taking all their information into account, they estimated that being a regular smoker was tied to an increased risk of developing schizophrenia, being over twice as likely to develop it.

Developing depression caused a similar increase, being just under twice as likely to develop it.

This means that, if the average rate of someone developing schizophrenia in a population is just one in 300 people, then the risk of a group of smokers would be just over one in 150.

This is almost definitive proof that smoking can be tied to an increased risk of developing mental disorders and issues.

What Makes Smoking Addicted?

So, with some pretty clear results being found, as well as all the other effects smoking has, it can often make people wonder why smoking is so difficult to quit in the first place.

Well, the answer to that is also one of the reasons smokers have been known to self-medicate using cigarettes: The effect it has on your brain.

Nicotine in cigarettes will bind to the neurotransmitters in your brain, which causes a release of chemicals into your bloodstream that have mood-elevating properties, such as dopamine and serotonin.

This is why you may find individuals with depression and schizophrenia would self-medicate with cigarettes, as it affects the chemical balance in the body that can cause some of the more problematic psychological issues they create.

However, given the long list of other health issues, physical and psychological, smoking causes, it isn’t worth the cost.

Final Thoughts – Ways To Help You Quit Smoking

So, we have learned that smoking cigarettes have many brain-altering effects that can cause and contribute to psychological issues. What are the ways you can get off them then?

  • Talking to a doctor about starting a Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) course may help get you on the right path by cutting out the tobacco.
  • If you are starting to quit, and you feel a depressive episode coming on, talk to a therapist or someone who will listen.

There are a wide number of ways to get away from smoking cigarettes, and the harmful effects they cause. The trick is knowing where to look.

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