What You Need To Know About Smoking And Your Brain

At this point, if we are talking about the dozens, if not hundreds of issues smoking has on your body, it can sometimes feel like the question shouldn’t be ‘What illnesses are caused by smoking?’, but should be ‘What illnesses aren’t caused by smoking?’

It feels like the list of conditions, illnesses, and cancers that can be attributed, if not outright caused, by smoking seems to grow every day.

What You Need To Know About Smoking And Your Brain

If it isn’t the tobacco of a cigarette giving you some cardiovascular system, then it is the nicotine causing high blood pressure or some other underlying issue that can mount up and cause damage over time.

One of the areas that smoking also affects, though in different ways, is your brain.

Whilst it is certainly more difficult to see and appreciate the effects of smoking on the brain, especially compared to the many disgusting pictures we have seen of smokers’ lungs, hearts, and teeth, the effects can be just as pronounced over time.

So, with that in mind, we are going to use this article to hopefully show you just how much effect smoking has on your brain, and the links it has to causing psychological issues and making them worse.

We’re also going to explain what exactly causes smoking to be so addictive and difficult to stop in the first place.

How Smoking Is Addictive To Your Brain?

When it comes to understanding why smoking becomes addictive, as well as why it is so difficult to stop, two broad components need to be understood as to why people have such a physical, as well as psychological, response to the withdrawal symptoms:

The physical reaction of the mind, and the emotional or psychological reaction a person can have.

Physical Reaction

One of the main issues that everyone who is quitting smoking will tell you about is the physical response their bodies seem to have once they have stopped smoking.

This is due to the additive nature that nicotine, and by extension, cigarettes have on the human brain.

When a person inhales a cigarette, their body is flooded with a mass of chemicals, many of which have damaging effects on the body, such as hydrogen cyanide and ammonia. 

One of these chemicals is nicotine, which has the effect of mimicking the effects of neurotransmitters when they reach the human brain.

When they do come into contact with the brain, they force the brain to release several chemicals that create a positive response in the body by releasing these chemicals into the bloodstream, such as dopamine and serotonin.

This reaction means that the brain associates the introduction of nicotine with the release of dopamine and other chemicals, and will create a reinforced positive reaction because of this.

This is what initially causes people to enjoy the sensation of smoking, and what causes them to continue doing so.

However, because of the abnormal flood of hormones and chemicals the brain experiences the first time it receives nicotine, the brain also starts to compensate for that massive increase and starts becoming resistant to its effects.

This is why, to receive a similarly pleasurable sensation, you have to intake more nicotine from more cigarettes, to get the same rush of dopamine.

This creates a vicious cycle where you need more cigarettes to chase the same high, and cousin your brain to become reliant on the dopamine it receives.

What this means is that, if you do decide to stop, the crash that you will experience without any dopamine can feel completely crushing, with the absence of any dopamine or serotonin having a massive physical effect thanks to the withdrawal.

Emotional Reaction

The physical aspect doesn’t even begin to cover the emotional aspect that can make it difficult to stop smoking as well.

More often than not, people will start smoking when they are going through a difficult time in their life, whether that is a loved one or friend dying, going through a divorce, or some other event that might cause you a lot of stress.

Taking a moment away from those things to smoke a cigarette can often be a moment to step away from those problems, and just be alone with your thoughts for a moment. 

Associating those quiet, relatively stressless moments with smoking creates an emotional, almost ceremonial connection to it, which can make it even more difficult to stop for many people.

It is why many people who are currently trying to give up smoking might talk about it as if they have lost a limb, or a part of themselves, or have lost a loved one even.

As strange as that can sound to a non-smoker, these emotional responses are real, and should not be dismissed or waved off if you know a person is giving up smoking and struggling with it.

Simply brushing off their feelings could cause them to spiral and potentially start smoking again. And with all the negative effects it has, that is the last thing you want them to do.

Links To Psychological Issues And Your Brain

As if simply the addiction wasn’t enough, there have even been links that have been studied between both the prevalence of smoking in people with psychological illnesses and their causes too.

It is estimated that smoking is twice as high amongst people who mental illnesses, compared to smokers who do not have any registered mental disorders.

This is likely because, similar to the effects that nicotine has on the brain, smoking acts as a way of regulating the effects of psychological disorders on the brain, albeit a temporary one with dangerous consequences.

Not only that but smoking has been shown to also potentially cause people with some predisposition to develop psychological health issues later in life.

Effects Of Smoking On Your Brain

If you have been smoking for a while, and you decide to quit, the withdrawal symptoms will almost certainly be pretty noticeable, both to yourself and to the people around you.

  • Withdrawal can cause you to lose the ability of your brain to concentrate or focus properly, as your brain’s chemical balance has been disrupted by the loss of nicotine and the following dopamine dump.
  • Similarly, because of the lack of regular dopamine, nicotine withdrawal can also cause people to fall into depression.
  • You may also find that you are much easier to irritate when you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, as the lack of dopamine causes you to struggle to regulate potentially bad moods.
  • You are twice as likely to develop a psychological disorder such as depression or schizophrenia if you have smoked for a long time.
    • As a further note, if you use cigarettes to self-medicate your condition, you may find that your psychological symptoms become worse when you quit, alongside everything else.

Final Thoughts – What Can Be Done To Stop Smoking?

As you can see, because of all the issues smoking can cause, whether during or after, you must seek professional help if you feel it is too difficult to stop on your own.

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