What to Know About Tobacco and Your Mental Health

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on September 14, 2023
3 min read

‌If you use tobacco, you know it can be challenging to quit. Years of experiencing the temporary good feelings brought on by tobacco have likely trained your brain to want it even more.

However, there are a lot of good reasons to explore quitting. Tobacco use has been shown to shorten life expectancy. It can also have a number of effects on your mental health.

Smoking tobacco can affect your mental health. How much it can affect you depends on how much and how frequently you smoke. Some possible effects may include:

Addiction. When a person smokes tobacco, nicotine reaches the brain within 10 seconds. For some people, nicotine improves mood and helps with relaxation. However, regular use can lead to addiction.

Regular doses of tobacco may lead to changes in the brain. When the nicotine supply drops, this causes withdrawal symptoms. This increases the habit. Most smokers become dependent because of this cycle.

Stress. While some people smoke to reduce stress, research shows that smoking actually increases tension. Tobacco can provide an immediate sense of relaxation, leading you to believe that it reduces anxiety.

However, this feeling of relaxation is temporary. It may cause you to develop an increased craving for tobacco and start experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Smoking may reduce withdrawal symptoms, but it doesn't reduce anxiety. 

Depression. A person with depression is twice as likely to smoke than someone not suffering from depression. However, it is important to note that many people begin smoking without showing signs of depression.

Tobacco causes the release of a chemical – dopamine – in the brain. Dopamine triggers positive feelings. People with depression often have low levels of dopamine, so they may then use tobacco to experience pleasure.

In the long run, smoking will actually encourage the brain to slow its own dopamine production. This reduction will eventually cause you to want to smoke more.

If you are experiencing depression, look for support when you start to quit smoking. You may be affected more severely by withdrawal symptoms, and you don't have to go through it alone.

Schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia are three times more likely to smoke than those without. They are also more likely to smoke heavily. This is because smoking may seem to manage some of the symptoms connected with the illness or the side effects of medication used in treatment. Research also shows that smoking may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia.

There are a few things to consider when you are ready to quit smoking. You are most likely to succeed if you have a plan and support. If you're undergoing a crisis or experiencing significant changes in your life, this will be even more important.

If you are taking medications like antidepressants or antipsychotics, talk to your doctor before you stop smoking. 

The following tips can help you in your efforts to quit:

  • Prepare for change: Try to think about your relationship with smoking. Write down what you'd achieve by quitting smoking. Some reasons to stop smoking may include better physical health, fresh breath, improved concentration, and more money to spend on other things.
  • Get support from family and friends: Quitting smoking can be easier with support from friends and relatives. If you're living among smokers, try convincing them to quit with you. If other family members smoke, ask them not to smoke around you. You can also ask them to keep their cigarettes or cigarette accessories where you can't see them.
  • Find another way to deal with stress: If you are smoking tobacco to reduce stress, try to find other ways of dealing with it. Breathing exercises, meditation, regular exercise, and a well-balanced diet can help. Talking to a supportive friend, family member, or spiritual leader may also help to reduce smoking.
  • Try to quit again even if you slip up: Many people who quit smoking will at some point relapse. Don't be discouraged from making an effort again. Use this as an opportunity to review what might have gone wrong. Study yourself, and figure out what will help you quit for good in the future.

While smoking might seem to reduce feelings of stress or depression, it actually makes things worse in the long run.

Talk to your doctor about any mental health difficulties. Find people who will support you. It's okay to slip up, but don't let it set you back.