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Why smoking and mental illness shouldn’t mix

Posted on 05-26-15 in Mental Health, Recovery, Treatment Centers

Why smoking and mental illness shouldn’t mix

In the United States, the amount of people smoking cigarettes is beginning to decline resulting in a total drop of about 18 percent in the last 50 years. This downward trend has likely been influenced by a combination of the rising prices of cigarettes, the apparent health consequences that come with smoking, the “trendy” vapes and e-cigs that are replacing cigarettes and the expanding industry of accessible resources that help individuals stop smoking. However, while many people are snuffing out their last cigarette, there are many individuals who remain trapped in the cycle of cigarette use.

Unfortunately, many of those trapped in this harmful cycle are simultaneously suffering from a mental health illness, as at least 53 percent of those with a serious mental disorder also smoke. While many people with a mental health condition may smoke as a form of self-medication in an effort to diminish or control their systems, it has been found that smoking can actually be detrimental to a person dealing with a mental illness.

The effect of smoking on mental health

Studies have found that smoking rates are three to four times higher among those with schizophrenia and just as common among those with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Individuals with schizophrenia are also more likely to smoke more heavily and will have less success with conventional treatments for ceasing cigarette use. Around 50 to 75 percent of adults with bipolar disorder have also been found to be regular smokers with 74 percent having expressed an intention to quit.

Smoking, while thought by some to help control certain symptoms or diminish stress and anxiety, is truthfully very harmful to those with mental illnesses. It has been found that one-half of all premature deaths of people who live with mental illnesses are caused by 19 diseases that are directly connected to smoking. Additionally, smoking actually increases stress and anxiety, a problem which many individuals with mental illness are trying to avoid. Despite the initial relief created by smoking, the habit will actually increase anxiety and tension, often brought on by nicotine withdrawal symptoms and cravings that accompany them. Smoking not only increases the feelings of anxiety and stress, but is also unable to provide a solution for any underlying causes to the mental illness the individual is dealing with. Tobacco will even interfere with some psychiatric medications and make them less effective, which often leads to an increased dosage and more side effects. The negative effects smoking will have on those with mental illness will only exacerbate their symptoms, creating a desperate need for these individuals to stop smoking for the sake of their mental and physical health.

Help with stopping the habit

Many individuals dealing with mental health disorders who smoke want to quit, but may not have the stamina to do so. Thankfully, there are resources that can help those with mental health illnesses quit smoking and stay clean.

For those with schizophrenia, antidepressant bupropion can be effective on its own or along with nicotine replacement therapy such as gum or patches. For individuals with bipolar disorder, varenicline may be an effective treatment; other studies have found that individuals with bipolar disorder who cease smoking will be able to maintain relatively stable moods. Though more research still needs to be done, those with MDD may find effective treatment and help to cease smoking through a combination of bupropion or varenicline and behavioral treatments.

Whichever mental illness an individual is dealing with, effective treatment for the disorder will ultimately help him or her lead a happier and healthier life while preventing the urge to smoke. If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health disorder, you can learn more about mental health disorder treatment at or call 866-524-5504 for more information.

Written by Brianna Gibbons, Sovereign Health Group writer