A general excuse given by women with mental health related problems like anxiety, depression, stress etc. is that they smoke to reduce their symptoms, for ‘self-medication’.
Heavy smoking does not necessarily lead to fewer symptoms of mental health problems in the long term.
Depression: Relationship with Smoking
Women especially with depression have difficulty when they try to stop smoking and have more severe withdrawal symptoms during attempts to give up. The reason being, nicotine stimulates the release of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved in triggering positive feelings. It is often found to be low in women with depression, who may then use cigarettes as a way of temporarily increasing their dopamine supply. However, smoking encourages the brain to switch off its own mechanism for making dopamine so in the long term the supply decreases, which in turn prompts women to smoke more.
They start to smoke before they show signs of depression so it is unclear whether smoking leads to depression or depression encourages people to start smoking. The most likely explanation is that there is a complex relationship between the two.
Smoking ‘May Play Schizophrenia Role’
Schizophrenia patients are more likely to smoke because they use cigarettes as a form of self-medication to ease the distress of hearing voices or having hallucinations.
Although many people with mental health problems say that they smoke to reduce their symptoms, they usually start smoking before their problems begin. Heavy smoking does not lead to fewer symptoms of mental health problems in the long term. Any short term benefits that smoking seems to have are outweighed by the higher rates of smoking-related physical health problems, such as lung cancer, that are common in people with mental health problems.
For advice on stopping smoking and which treatments might be suitable for you, talk to your doctor, a pharmacist or a health visitor. They will point out to you services for smokers in your area.
Tips to help you Quit Smoking
• Identify your smoking triggers and make a conscious effort to avoid them. For instance, if you have a habit of smoking a cigarette post-lunch, replace that habit with something else in your day like going for a walk or having a cup of coffee
• Get rid of all smoking paraphernalia from your home, car and any places you frequent.
• Avoid being around smokers.
• Do not shy away from taking professional help. Visit a counselor who can guide and support you quit the habit.
• Ask your family and friends for assistance.
• Read some self-help books on how to quit smoking.