Mental health is a complex topic. Researchers are learning more every year about how genetics and environmental factors affect mental health and emotional well-being, but there’s still a lot that we don’t fully understand. Addiction and substance use, for instance, are still areas requiring more study and better treatment options.
One thing is clear, though: nicotine addiction through smoking and using tobacco products isn’t just bad for your lungs. It can also have a major impact on your mental health.
Here’s what you need to know about how smoking can affect mental health and well-being.
The link between smoking and mental illness
Historically, there’s been a strong link between the tobacco industry and the mental health industry. Both industries have a reputation for poor ethics and high rates of smoking among people with mental illness are partially due to their questionable practices.
Big tobacco companies have funnelled marketing dollars into attracting people who are more prone to severe mental health problems, such as those of lower socioeconomic status. Mental health professionals also used to give patients cigarettes as rewards in institutional settings, perpetuating addiction and making these patients’ overall well-being worse.
In addition to being more likely to take up smoking, these individuals typically have a harder time quitting, since they often lack resources and health insurance for support.
Although many people with mental illnesses often take up smoking as a way to relieve stress, cigarettes actually have the exact opposite effect. Smoking can make you more anxious and tense, leading to a vicious cycle. When you crave a cigarette, smoking does make you feel better – for a little while. However, the elevated anxiety you’ll feel as a smoker means that this relief is just an illusion.
Smoking can make mental health issues worse
People with mental illnesses like schizophrenia and depression often think that cigarettes will help ease their symptoms. Unfortunately, any improvement is only temporary, and ultimately, smoking tends to have a negative impact on mental illness symptoms.
Over time, a smoking habit can actually make mental health concerns worse and can make someone more likely to develop depression. Nicotine addiction affects your mood and reduces your quality of life. People who quit smoking generally note that their well-being improves, and their mood is generally more positive. In fact, quitting smoking has been shown to be as effective as taking an antidepressant.
In addition to affecting your mood negatively, smoking can make your mental health medications less effective. Many people are surprised to find that when they quit smoking, they need a lower dose of the same medications to get the same effects.
Quitting smoking is a major challenge, but it’s one of the best ways for smokers to improve their mood and health.
Resources for quitting
Everyone who quits smoking or using other tobacco products has their own personal reasons for making this difficult commitment. Some do it so they can live longer and healthier lives with their loved ones. Others want to eliminate the costs of cigarettes. And some want to live their lives without the burden of needing a cigarette to get through the day.
If none of these reasons has been enough to get you to quit in the past, the potential impact on your mental health just might.
Regardless of your reasons for quitting, there are lots of resources available for helping you to kick the habit. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) website features a smoking cessation hotline where you can get a quitting plan, coaching, and referrals to local resources. Your doctor can also be a good resource when you’re ready to break your addiction once and for all.
Quitting smoking isn’t easy. Overcoming addiction takes work, patience, and dedication. However, the benefits of quitting smoking are worth the effort and include both a healthier body and a healthier mind.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.
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