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Smoking and Mental Health - An Overview

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5 min read


This article deals with the relationship between smoking and mental health, explaining the ways they are connected and the mental problems caused by smoking.

Written by

Dr. Vineetha. V

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Vipul Chelabhai Prajapati

Published At August 7, 2023
Reviewed AtFebruary 28, 2024


Despite a recent decrease in prevalence, tobacco smoking continues to be a major contributor to mortality and morbidity. According to estimates from 2012, global tobacco smoking rates were around 31 percent for men and 6 percent for women. Individuals with psychiatric illnesses exhibit significantly higher rates of smoking compared to the general population. Patients with various disorders such as schizophrenia, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), binge eating disorder, bulimia, and substance use disorders are estimated to have smoking rates two to five times higher than the general population. The relationship between smoking and psychiatric illness can be viewed from multiple perspectives.

What Causes Smoking to Be Highly Addictive?

When an individual engages in smoking, nicotine swiftly enters the brain in approximately ten seconds. Initially, nicotine enhances mood and focus, diminishes feelings of anger and stress, induces muscle relaxation, and decreases appetite. Consistent nicotine consumption triggers alterations in the brain, resulting in the emergence of withdrawal symptoms when the nicotine supply diminishes. Smoking provides temporary relief from these withdrawal symptoms, reinforcing the habit in the process. This repetitive cycle is what leads to nicotine dependence in the majority of smokers.

What Are the Negative Impacts of Smoking on Mental Health?

Here are some mental health conditions that have been linked to smoking:

  • Depression: Research has shown a strong association between smoking and depression. Smokers are more likely to experience symptoms of depression, and smoking is more prevalent among those with depression. The relationship between smoking and depression is complex and bidirectional, with smoking potentially worsening depressive symptoms and individuals using smoking as a form of self-medication.

  • Anxiety Disorders: Several studies have found a higher prevalence of anxiety disorders among smokers compared to non-smokers. Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder, are more common in individuals who smoke. Nicotine, the addictive component of cigarettes, may temporarily alleviate anxiety symptoms, leading to a reinforcing cycle of smoking.

  • Stress and Smoking: Some people "self-medicate" by smoking to reduce stress. Research has revealed, however, that smoking actually makes people feel more tense and anxious. Smokers believe nicotine will help them feel more relaxed because it has an immediate calming effect. Temporary in nature, this feeling soon gives way to cravings that increase withdrawal symptoms. Smoking lessens the symptoms of withdrawal, but it does nothing to lessen anxiety or address the causes of anxiety.

  • Substance Use Disorders: Smoking is significantly linked to a higher risk of experiencing substance use disorders, especially alcohol and illicit drug addiction. Individuals with substance use disorders often have higher rates of smoking, and smoking cessation can be more challenging for individuals with co-occurring substance abuse and nicotine addiction.

  • Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is a complex mental disorder characterized by a range of symptoms, including hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking, and impaired social functioning. Smoking rates among individuals with schizophrenia are considerably higher than in the general population. Nicotine has been found to temporarily improve cognitive and sensory deficits associated with schizophrenia, leading some individuals to smoke as a form of self-medication. However, smoking is associated with poorer treatment outcomes and increased health risks for individuals with schizophrenia.

  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): People diagnosed with ADHD have a greater tendency to engage in smoking and exhibit higher rates of nicotine addiction. Nicotine has been suggested to provide temporary relief from ADHD symptoms, leading to higher smoking rates in this population. However, smoking can worsen symptoms of ADHD and interfere with treatment effectiveness.

What Causes the Development of Psychiatric Disorders Among Individuals Who Smoke?

Smoking can act as a causal factor in the development of psychiatric disorders, as it can induce brain changes that interact with the underlying pathophysiology of mental illnesses.

1. ADHD and Maternal Smoking-

  • Research suggests a link between pregnant women who smoke and their children's chance of developing ADHD.

  • However, whether smoking directly causes ADHD is still uncertain. Some studies propose that the association might be due to shared genetic factors.

  • Children with ADHD born to smoking mothers tend to have more severe behavioral problems. The amount of smoking during pregnancy may affect various cognitive and clinical aspects in these children.

  • Maternal smoking during pregnancy can lead to brain changes, such as reduced gray matter and thinning of the cortex. It can also affect neural circuitry related to inhibitory control and reward in children.

2. Smoking and Dementia or Alzheimer's Disease -

  • Strong evidence indicates that smoking is associated with a higher risk of dementia and the development of Alzheimer's disease.

  • Some studies have shown greater brain atrophy rates in areas affected by Alzheimer's disease among smokers compared to non-smokers.

  • In elderly individuals, smoking has been linked to smaller basal forebrain volume, which may compromise cholinergic reserve capacity and increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

  • The exact mechanism by which smoking causes central nervous system atrophy is not fully understood. Still, it might involve the burden of cardiovascular impairment from smoking and the harmful effects of the compounds present in cigarette smoke.

3. Smoking and Other Psychiatric Disorders -

  • Smoking has been suggested to play a contributory role in other psychiatric disorders.

  • Nicotine's impact on fear memory and emotion processing is thought to be involved in the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders.

  • Effects of smoking on neurotransmitter systems, oxidative stress, inflammation, and neurotrophic processes have also been proposed as potential factors in the progression of bipolar disorder.

What Are the Effects of Smoking on the Metabolism of Psychotropic Medications?

Smoking can have an impact on the effects of psychotropic medications as it acts as a modulator. Smoking or nicotine consumption can affect the metabolism of various psychoactive drugs. Specifically, smoking has been found to induce certain liver enzymes involved in drug metabolism. These enzymes play a role in processing psychotropic medications, including antipsychotics like Clozapine and Olanzapine, as well as other drugs like Benzodiazepines. The effects on drug metabolism include:

  • Individuals who smoke often exhibit decreased plasma levels of Clozapine compared to non-smokers. When a patient quits smoking, the levels of Clozapine are predicted to increase within one to two days. This suggests that smoking influences the metabolism of these antipsychotic medications.

  • Cytochrome P450 enzymes are not only present in organs like the liver but also in the brain. In different brain regions, smokers have higher levels of CYP2B6, an enzyme that can metabolize various substances, including endogenous compounds like serotonin and testosterone, as well as exogenous agents like nicotine, cocaine, Amphetamines, and Bupropion. This suggests that smoking may impact the local levels of these substances in specific brain regions.

What Are the Benefits of Quitting Smoking on Mental Health?

Several mental health benefits can occur after stopping smoking habits:

  1. Lower Levels of Anxiety, Depression, and Stress: Studies have shown that when people stop smoking, their levels of anxiety, depression, and stress tend to decrease. Quitting smoking can contribute to a greater sense of calmness and improved mental well-being.

  2. Improves Mood: Quitting smoking is associated with an enhancement in the overall quality of life and a more positive mood. People often experience a greater sense of well-being, increased satisfaction, and improved emotional state after giving up smoking.

  3. Reduction in medication dose: For individuals using medications to manage mental health conditions, quitting smoking can have additional benefits. Evidence suggests that stopping smoking can lead to a reduction in the dosage of certain medicines used to treat mental health problems. In some cases, quitting smoking can be as effective as taking antidepressants in addressing symptoms of anxiety and depression.


Smoking can potentially influence the course of psychiatric illness and brain function. The effects of smoking on the metabolism of psychoactive drugs can have implications for brain function in certain psychiatric populations. Smoking influences the metabolism of these medications, and it may contribute to variations in how the brain responds to treatment and influences brain function. Quitting smoking has notable mental health advantages. It can result in lower levels of anxiety, depression, stress, improved quality of life, and a more positive mood.

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Dr. Vipul Chelabhai Prajapati
Dr. Vipul Chelabhai Prajapati



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