Smoking Has An Unexpected Impact On Your Mental Health

Cigarette smoking does more than just damage your lungs. This habit can also affect mental health and take years off your life, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Researchers say that smoking contributes to mental disorders and the other way around, making it a vicious circle. Moreover, tobacco use is a leading risk factor for premature death.

Smokers are up to 6.4 times more likely to suffer from heart disease than the general population, according to the WHO. They also face a higher risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, and diabetes. Mental illnesses are linked to early death, too. Individuals with mental disorders live 5-10 years less than the average person. Therefore, mortality rates tend to be much higher in those who smoke and have a mental illness.

But how does smoking affect your mental health? After all, nicotine is associated with feelings of pleasure. This compound increases the release of endorphins and stimulates the nervous system, according to Ochsner Health. What you may not know is that nicotine also depresses the central nervous system, affecting your brain and body.

Cigarette smoking can leave you stressed and overwhelmed

The U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control reports that more than 16 million Americans suffer from diabetes, cancer, and other smoking-related disorders. However, little is known about the impact of smoking on mental health. As it turns out, it may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and depression, according to a 2019 study published in Psychological Medicine.

Smoking is also a risk factor for anxiety, according to a 2013 study featured in Brain and Behavior. The chemicals in cigarette smoke may cause structural brain changes, such as a reduction in white and gray matter. The more cigarettes you smoke, the greater the damage. Another explanation is that nicotine increases oxidative stress and interacts with specific neurotransmitter systems, which can further alter your mood.

"After a short period of not smoking, many smokers will start to feel the need for a cigarette, and other withdrawal symptoms such as feeling irritable or on edge become apparent," Ann McNeill, tobacco policy expert, told Patient. "Having a cigarette relieves such discomfort, so smokers believe that smoking relieves their stress." On the positive side, quitting may reverse some of the damage and improve mental health. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.