Nicotine addiction and mental health problems often go hand-in-hand. Nicotine acts on the brain and can change mood, thinking, and behavior. Over time, the brain gets used to nicotine and needs it to feel normal. When someone tries to quit nicotine, they can feel anxious, sad, crabby, and have trouble focusing. This can make any mental health problems worse.
Research shows that people with conditions like depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder are more likely to smoke and get addicted to nicotine.
- People with mental health conditions smoke about 1 in 3 of all cigarettes smoked by adults (CDC)
- Adults with mental illness smoke nearly 40% of all cigarettes in the United States (American Lung Association):
- Individuals diagnosed with mental health disorders (depression or bipolar disorder) are 2-3 times as likely to be current smokers than individuals without mental health disorders (American Psychiatric Association).
- Smoking rates are 3-4 times higher among those with schizophrenia compared to the general population (National Institute of Mental Health)
Don’t think that vaping is a healthier option. There is emerging research on the connections between mental health and vaping:
- The rates of teen vaping are 2-3 times higher among those with mental health disorders (NIDA)
- Analysis of a national survey showed that adults who vape regularly are about twice as likely to suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions compared to non-vapers (Truth Initiative).
- For those already struggling with mental health disorders, vaping may exacerbate symptoms just like traditional cigarette smoking (CDC).
- With more research emerging, experts theorize that high nicotine concentrations in some vape juices may negatively impact mental health, especially in teens whose brains are still developing (CDC).
Sadly, there are a few reasons for this:
- Nicotine may help some mental health symptoms feel better for a short time. But it does not treat the actual problem.
- Mental health issues can make it hard to control urges and quit smoking.
- Smoking may be more accepted around psychiatric patients and healthcare providers. This reinforces the habit.
- Some mental health medications and nicotine do not mix well. This can make quitting harder.
- Genes and environment may play a role in both mental illness and smoking.
Quitting smoking can improve mental health over time. Withdrawal goes away after a few weeks. Brain receptors become more responsive, easing anxiety and depression. Quitting also eliminates smoking health risks like cancer.
People with mental illness who smoke can use nicotine gum, patches, sprays to manage withdrawal. In fact, nicotine replacement therapy, though not risk-free, is safer than smoking. Research shows that they can double the chances of successfully quitting, regardless of mental health status (Cochrane Review). Combine these treatment options with professional support, like that at The Breathing Association, and a personal drive, even those with mental illness can quit smoking or vaping and gain the mental benefits.