Most adults are aware of the health risks of smoking tobacco. Research shows that smoking may also have an affect on mental health. While the motivation for smoking varies from person to person, knowing why some people smoke may help those who want to stop.

The physical, or biological, elements of smoking deal with how the cerebral matter reacts to nicotine. As an individual smokes, nicotine hits the brain in about ten seconds. The first drags on tobacco can alleviate a mental funk and melancholy while improving attentiveness and the ability to focus. It also helps in decreasing displeasure and anxiety. It may also relax the muscles and dampen the appetite.

Regular smoking and exposure to nicotine can lead to physical modifications in the brain. These changes, at the molecular level, lead to withdrawal when the nicotine level drops. Smoking again will temporarily reduce the symptoms of withdrawal, but it reinforces the habit.

Social factors also often help drive smokers to keep smoking. Many teenagers and young adults experiment with tobacco, especially cigarettes. If a friend or relative smokes, a young person is prone to adopt their attitude towards smoking. With the transition into adulthood, people are at a greater risk of smoking if they also abuse alcohol or drugs. Substance abuse can increase the odds of running headlong into stress. Many adults say they smoke to help relieve that stress and relax.

Smoking and Depression

The number of adults diagnosed with depression, who smoke,  is significantly higher, as much as 2 to 1, as the rate for those not suffering from depression. When depression is present in a person’s life, they may have a particularly hard time when they attempt to quit smoking. Nicotine triggers the flood of dopamine, the brain chemical that triggers those “feel good feelings.” Dopamine is often meager in individuals with depression. Smoking, though, triggers the brain to turn off its own switch for pumping out dopamine. In the long term the supply of dopamine decreases which triggers people to smoke more.

Smoking and Schizophrenia

Studies show that people with schizophrenia are also more likely to smoke. The most common reason given is that people with schizophrenia will use smoking for the control and management of their symptoms. Smoking may also help relieve some of the downside of medication they may be taking.

Does Smoking Improve Mental Health?

Many individuals with mental health issues state that they smoke to manage their symptoms. Actually, they have usually started smoking before the problems started. Heavy smoking, by itself, does not usually lead to fewer mental health problems. However, any short term benefit gained from smoking are normally wiped out by the health risks of long term smoking.

Ways to Quit

Trying to stop smoking through willpower — “cold turkey” — alone is probably the least effective method. Planning ahead and having support will help increase the odds of successfully quitting tobacco.

Getting Support

The stress of stopping smoking usually can be easier if you talk about your goal with friends and family. Enlist their help and support. It can be more challenging to quit if you live with others who smoke, so making it a group effort may be the way to go.

Nicotine Therapy and Medication

Devices and aids such as nicotine patches, nicotine chewing gum, electronic cigarettes and anti-depressants have shown to help smokers without mental health problems to quit smoking. They may also be helpful for people with depression or schizophrenia.

For more suggestions on stopping smoking and which options may be best for you, talk to your physician or pharmacist. They are best equipped to point you in the right direction for services in your area.