Cigarette Smokers Are More Likely to Experience Mental Health Issues
We all know cigarettes are bad for our bodies. But how much do we know about the way they affect our psychology?
People struggling with mental health issues are more likely to become smokers. In a 2013 study, it was found that 36.5% of adults with mental illness used tobacco compared to the 25.3% of adults who smoke and don’t face a mental condition.
Nicotine, the main chemical found in tobacco products, is one of the most addictive drugs one can get their hands on. In fact, it’s just as addictive as substances such as heroin and cocaine.
But how does it work? Nicotine contains a molecule very similar to one our body naturally produces, acetylcholine. This molecule attaches to receptors which are responsible for the following:
● Heart rate
● Muscle movement
When you smoke a cigarette, the nicotine molecule attaches itself to your acetylcholine receptors, mimicking what they naturally produce with an instant effect. Furthermore, nicotine activates areas of the brain responsible for pleasure and reward by releasing dopamine. Scientists have a strong belief that due to dopamine, tobacco products are highly addictive.
So, how does all this relate to mental health?
There are many smokers out there who will assure that cigarettes alleviate many of their mental health symptoms, including stress and feelings of sadness. And though this may be true for those smokers, the thing they overlook is the fact that cigarettes are a temporary relief with worse long-term effects.
We can get an idea of this temporary relief by looking into mental health concerns and observing how nicotine affects them.
Many people with anxiety will tell you that smoking is a significant stress relief. When they inhale nicotine, they get the sensation of their body calming down.
However, smoking actually has quite the opposite effect. Instead of relieving anxiety, it, in fact, heightens anxiety. The reason being is withdrawal symptoms from nicotine begin about twenty minutes after a person has a cigarette. One of the symptoms just so happens to be anxiety.
When people with anxiety smoke, they are feeling relaxed in that moment. But when the time comes to go back to a responsibility, anxiety increases the longer a person goes without a cigarette.
It’s been discovered that people who face depression have the hardest time quitting nicotine. The reason being is their withdrawal symptoms are experienced at a more intense rate.
The problem occurs with nicotine-releasing dopamine. By creating positive sensations, people facing depression feel good when they smoke. Since depression is defined as strong feelings of despondency and dejection, it comes to no surprise those struggling with it are looking for a positive relief.
Since most people who try cigarettes do so before feelings of depression, studies are still in the works to see whether or not smoking causes depression.
People with schizophrenia are three times more likely to become smokers than those who don’t have the mental disorder. Though it’s not entirely clear as to why this occurs, researchers believe nicotine helps people with schizophrenia feel more in control of the symptoms connected to their illness.
Why Smokers Manage Stress with Tobacco
The term “self-medication” is used to identify people who smoke as a means of alleviating stress. Since stress has negative physical and psychological effects, it comes to no surprise that people smoke in order to let their bodies and minds sink a moment into something that feels positive.
Just as with the other areas of mental health, smoking is only a temporary relief from stress. Therefore, it’s not the kind of self-medication people need in order to lighten stress symptoms. For, in the long run, the smoker is actually doing more damage to their bodies and mind.
Not only are they getting themselves addicted to one of the most addictive drugs out there, but they’re trying to escape problems with larger roles at play. You can’t self-medicate by relieving stress, schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety for a short period of time. You need to work towards these issues, understand them, and accept them. You need to slowly progress to a relief you dream of.
If you or anyone you know is a tobacco user and looking to quit, smokefree.gov offers a variety of tools which can be beneficial in stopping cigarette use and preventing relapse.
Written by Paul James.