We often consider smoking to be a ‘social’ activity, but the latest research published on The Lancet suggests that smoking can actually lead to antisocial behaviors. Based on a 12-year study, researchers found that smoking is associated with the development of increasing social isolation and loneliness in older adults, which could be detrimental to psychosocial health.
These new insights come at a time when we’re globally reckoning with the effects of isolation. During the height of the pandemic, many people struggled with loneliness and faced mental health challenges because of it. In this article, we’ll take a look at exactly how smoking can affect our mental condition, and how to kick the habit for good.
How Smoking Affects Mental Health
Biochemistry tells us that nicotine, a key component in tobacco products, is a highly powerful drug. Within seconds of smoking, nicotine travels to the brain and binds to receptors, leading to a release of dopamine in the pleasure pathways of the brain. This gives the user feelings of pleasure and calmness. Nicotine also enhances mood and concentration, relaxes muscles, suppresses appetite, and reduces levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.
For mental health patients, nicotine becomes a form of self-medication to manage mood disorders, or mask negative symptoms of schizophrenia and ADHD. However, the benefits are short-lived. By using cigarettes to temporarily increase dopamine levels, you encourage the brain to switch off its own mechanism for making dopamine — leaving you reliant on tobacco to feel satisfied. Patients encounter addiction withdrawal symptoms when their supply of nicotine decreases, which may lead to greater depressive symptoms, greater likelihood of psychiatric hospitalization, or even an increase in suicidal behavior.
A factsheet launched by the World Health Organization notes that two in three people with severe mental health conditions are current smokers. Tobacco-use creates a vicious cycle, where mentally ill people are twice as likely to use tobacco, and tobacco makes people more vulnerable to mental health concerns. Aside from disrupting a patient’s quality of life, smoking cigarettes can also reduce the effectiveness of certain medications that treat mental illness.
Tips on Kicking the Habit
Once smoking becomes an addiction, it can be incredibly hard to quit. Experts recommend starting nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and medication. NRT helps smokers slowly replace cigarettes with less harmful products like nicotine gum, patches, sprays, inhalers, and lozenges. These don’t have the harmful chemicals in tobacco products, and they let you manage withdrawal symptoms so you can focus on the psychological aspects of kicking the habit. Innovative nicotine pouches from Prilla allow former chewing tobacco or cigarette users to switch to a smoke-free alternative. These tobacco-free pouches can be put under your lip to get nicotine delivery, and even come in different strengths and sizes. By reducing nicotine intake, you can curb cravings until you wean off nicotine entirely.
According to research from King’s College London, e-cigarettes can also be an effective tool to quit smoking because they’re much safer than cigarettes. The study found that people who used e-cigarettes daily were over five times more likely to achieve tobacco abstinence than those who were using no help at all. Of course, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider to check which NRT treatments are suitable for you.
Most importantly, treatments to quit smoking should be combined with socialization to address underlying psychological issues. Talk therapy can help change behavior to address thoughts and actions, while support from family and friends can make it easier for patients to kick the habit. As we discussed in our article called Understanding the Benefits of Hope, patients should develop confidence that things will get better. When they’re hopeful about the future, they can better propel themselves towards recovery.