There are widely embraced assumptions concerning the strong relationship between smoking and your general mood. If you have ever tried to stay away from the cigarettes for a day, you are probably familiar with the characteristic agitation and the significant drop in your overall temperament. Nicotine can make you focus; to an extent, it can make you calmer. After all, it’s a drug and people started using it for a reason. But where does that factor in when it comes to the effects smoking has on your mental health? Introducing a harmful, potent, and very addictive drug to a mental condition with the purpose of enhancing it is obviously a no-no, right? Well, the relationship between smoking and mental illness is a lot more complex than a clear-cut one-dimensional answer to the previous question.
|Disclaimer: This article does not endorse smoking as a method of self-medication nor does it encourage the use of nicotine without medical supervision|
Debunking the Myths *
The myths surrounding smoking are numerous. Is it a grounding habit? Does it lessen the severity of a panic attack? Can the cigarette be a reliable tool to handle symptoms of schizophrenia? Let us find out.
Can Smoking Help Relieve Stress? *
If you’re dealing with a tense situation, frustration and stress, anger, and agitation can be the natural outcome everyone is expected to deal with. Nicotine is a psychoactive drug; that is, it has the ability to alter your mood. Within 8 seconds of the first cigarette you smoke, dopamine is released in your body, causing a general sense of calmness. Sounds perfect, no? No. Because despite the easy access to a magic drug that can heighten your mood in mere seconds, that is all there is to it: seconds. The effect of one cigarette lasts as long as it’s still lit. Once it’s gone, you crave that sensation again, needing to light another, then another, to maintain the illusion of calm. The tense situation hasn’t been resolved, you haven’t actively relaxed or worked through your negative feelings; you just sedated them. Furthermore, physically, smoking can subject your body to higher degrees of stress: increasing blood pressure and heart rate, lessening the amount of oxygen reaching your brain. You’d basically be replacing a temporary problem with a bigger longer-lasting one. Doesn’t sound too practical.
Can Smoking Prevent or Cause a Panic Attack? *
Many people, especially youth, reach out for cigarettes to decrease anxiety. Panic attacks, at their core, are sudden persistent feelings of anxiety and terror; they can cause profuse sweating, irregular heartbeats, chest pain, and shortness of breath (or a feeling of suffocation). These symptoms are similar to those of nicotine withdrawal. So while a person coping with anxiety could seek the help of tobacco to relieve the symptoms, they would be trapping their body in a vicious cycle, where not getting the needed nicotine in time could effectively trigger a panic attack. The relationship between smoking and panic attacks doesn’t stop here. There’s a yet scientifically unexplained link between smoking and the increased risk of developing a panic disorder. Nicotine is a stimulant that messes with your heart rate and respiratory process. The respiratory abnormalities caused by inhaling certain doses of nicotine could be significant in the formation of panic attacks.
Can Smoking Help Control the Tics of Tourette Syndrome? *
Tourette syndrome is a neuropsychiatric disorder where the afflicted, exhibiting symptoms since childhood, has multiple motor tics in addition to at least one vocal tic. Where scientists are not yet sure of the causes, it’s suggested that patients have excessive levels of dopamine that need to be blocked to help manage the symptoms. Researches may have found a connection between nicotine and increasing the potency of dopamine blockers:
Researchers think that nicotine acts by stimulating the chemicals which play a fundamental role in transmitting messages between nerves and across brain neurochemicals. […] The researchers are not entirely sure how it works, but suggest that by latching onto a “nicotine receptor” on brain cells, it stops the receptor playing its role in the mechanism of Tourette’s instead.
While such conclusions are definitely good news for Tourette’s patients, the researchers assert that there are many ways to use nicotine medically outside the context of smoking, where the user won’t have to compromise a health aspect to improve another. So the answer of our question is: No, smoking of itself does not help manage Tourette’s, although supervised medical use of nicotine may one day prove effective in controlling the symptoms.
Can Smoking Help Cope with Schizophrenia? *
Patients of schizophrenia are two to three times more likely to smoke than the general population. One of the suggested reasons as to why is to self-medicate.
Nicotine [may] help regulate a dysfunctional mesolimbic dopamine system. It may increase dopamine release in the pre-frontal cortex and alleviate positive and negative symptoms (Lavin et al, 1996).
Despite the former positive association, symptoms of schizophrenia can significantly worsen with nicotine withdrawal, bringing us to the same trap we mentioned before, where a patient is forced to smoke heavily to maintain the relief, offering no actual solution to the real problem and fostering addiction instead.
Patients with schizophrenia may smoke heavily as a result of antipsychotic medication, which produces marked dopamine receptor blockade. Possibly, a very high level of smoking is necessary to overcome this blockade and produce the reward effects.
Smoking and Mental Illness *
Like any other drug, the bad habit can have a silver lining. But be it the resulting euphoria, the temporary relaxation, or the management of a psychotic episode, the positive effects can only last for minutes, and then the user is left wanting, craving another hit to maintain the illusion of stability. The price to pay for said stability is too high it is barely worth consideration. Smoking can and does damage your body. Heavy use can be very detrimental to your system, and developing dependence on nicotine to cope with a mental problem will leave you vulnerable to serious risks, simultaneously discouraging you from seeking a healthier more permanent solution to the root issue.
Do not start, because even though the need and the motivation are understandable, once you start, it’s a lot harder to break the cycle. And if you have already started and the reliance has a strong hold on you, speak with your doctor of the possible alternatives specific to your case. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and medications (including anti-depressants) can come to the rescue. Stay healthy!