Nowadays we are very aware of the physical effects of smoking: wrinkles, tooth decay, reduced lung capacity, multiple diseases including cancer. But what about the mental affects? Since tobacco and nicotine are so strong and addictive they must negatively affect our brains in some way.
Regular smoking can indeed alter the biochemistry of the brain. The frequent dose of nicotine alters its reward system. When you smoke the brain releases a reward hormone called dopamine, but this artificial stimulation causes the brain’s natural reward process to switch off, therefore a person is likely to smoke more to feel good.
Sufferers of a mental health problem are twice as likely to smoke compared to those who don’t smoke. People use smoking to ‘self medicate’ as it temporarily reduces the severity of symptoms or the side effects of medications. However smoking does not tackle the underlying issue, it simply masks the problem for a short period of time. Additionally many people who say they smoke to reduce stress or other issues actually began smoking prior to the development of the mental health issue(s).
Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have analysed surveys from 4,800 American daily smokers. The participants completed 2 surveys 3 years apart. The collected data showed that those who had an addiction or mental health problem in the first survey were less likely to have one in the second survey if they quit smoking.
In the first survey 40 % of the smokers reported mood/anxiety problems, 50% had alcohol problems and 24% had drug problems. However in the second survey out of those who had quit smoking 29% struggled with their mood, 18% struggled with alcohol and 5% struggled with drugs compared to 42%, 28% and 16% respectively of those who had continued smoking.
Patricia Cavazos-Rehg, who was involved in the research, said “clinicians tend to treat depression, alcohol dependence or drug problems first and allow patients to ‘self medicate’ with cigarettes if necessary.” But since there seems to be a link between smoking and mental health it should be highly important for people to be encouraged to quit smoking, because any positive effects are heavily outweighed by the many negative effects.
So, more evidence that you should quit smoking, what are you waiting for?