How smoking can make your mental health worse
Smoking causes physical harm, but what does it do to your mental health?
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Smoking harms almost every organ in your body, particularly your lungs and heart. But what about the effects of smoking on your mental health?
There are over 4000 chemicals in a cigarette, many of which can cause cancer. One of the main ingredients in a cigarette is nicotine, a highly addictive substance.
Some people reach for a cigarette when they feel stressed or anxious as a way to relax. But smoking can actually increase anxiety and stress when your body starts to crave nicotine, which can happen just a few hours after their last cigarette.
When you stop smoking, your anxiety, depression and stress can all decrease and your mental health improves overall.
Smoking and mental health
When you smoke a cigarette, nicotine activates the pleasure centres of your brain and produces dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel good. But while it might give you a temporary boost, in the long run, smoking can harm your mental health.
Smoking and anxiety
Nicotine in cigarettes creates an immediate sense of relaxation because of the initial chemical reaction. As a result, some people smoke believing that it will reduce anxiety and stress.
But smoking causes your body to release the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol can leave you feeling stressed in the long run. It can also cause you to develop anxiety or worsen it.
Once withdrawal symptoms kick in, you can feel more anxious. Withdrawal is when your body no longer feels the benefits of nicotine and craves more of it.
Smoking a cigarette can not only make your anxiety worse in the long-run. It also doesn’t deal with the underlying causes of your anxiety.
Speaking to your doctor or a certified counsellor is a much better way to deal with your anxiety, and together you can come up with a plan to treat it.
For dealing with day-to-day stress, there are lots of different ways you can figure out how to manage it.
Smoking and depression
The dopamine that the brain releases is often low for people with depression. People with depression might then use smoking (or any nicotine product, like vaping) as a way to increase their dopamine levels and feel happier.
But smoking encourages the brain to stop making its own dopamine. The amount of dopamine in your brain then decreases over time. This will happen even though you might continue to smoke more to feel good again.
Like anxiety, smoking a cigarette as a way to feel better doesn’t address the root causes of your depression. Speaking to a GP or a certified mental health professional can help you cope with depression in a healthier way.
The benefits of quitting smoking for your mental health
Quitting smoking is one of the best decisions you can make for your physical and mental health.
To help you quit, you can try different forms of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). This could be nicotine patches, gums and sprays to help you deal with cravings and withdrawal. But this depends on how old you are, so if you are considering NRT, reach out to your doctor or the Quitline for more information.
When you stop smoking, your quality of life and mood can drastically improve. Research even shows that giving up smoking can be as effective as antidepressants.
If you are on any anti-psychotic medicine or antidepressants, let your GP or psychiatrist know before you quit. They might need to change the amount of medication you are on.
Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for yourself, for the people around you and the environment. You will see improvements in your energy levels, your sleep, your sense of taste and smell, your breathing, circulation and your finances.
Remember to look after yourself as you go through the process of quitting. Different self care routines and ways of enhancing your wellbeing work for different people.
You could try a new exercise routine and eating a more balanced diet. Practicing meditation and mindfulness could also help, as can expressing yourself creatively and spending time with others. You could also make an appointment with a certified counsellor.
Quitting smoking has many benefits, like improving your mental health. Read more about the benefits of quitting smoking.
Tips on how to quit
Although quitting is not easy, and cravings and withdrawal can be difficult to deal with, there are supports available to you. People who reach out for support when quitting are also twice as likely to quit for good.
You can visit Quit.ie for tips on how to stop smoking, and you can call the Quitline on Freephone 1 800 201 203 to talk to someone who understands and who can help you quit.
Cravings and withdrawal peak two to three days after you quit smoking, and usually pass in a few minutes. After about four to six weeks, you should stop feeling intense cravings.
Read more about how to deal with withdrawal when you quit smoking.