How Smoking Cessation Affects Your Mental Health

When discussing the benefits of quitting smoking, most of the focus is usually put on the physical ones. Smokers who manage to reach and maintain smoking cessation are less likely to develop a life-threatening illness and are able to enjoy better fitness and physical health in general. 

But what about the mental health benefits that smoking cessation can provide? Many times it is these advantages that allow those in the process of cessation to stay on course. 

Read on to find out how smoking cessation can improve your mental well-being.

how smoking cessation can improve your mental health

What is Smoking Addiction? A Quick Review 

Smoking addiction refers to the strong urge to inhale nicotine via tobacco smoke, which offers a pleasant sensation. It is largely the result of nicotine dependence, a biological process that is caused from nicotine binding with the brain’s nicotinic cholinergic receptors. 

  • A highly addictive substance, nicotine inhalation quickly becomes a habit that is tough to break off. With tolerance developing over time, the experienced mood elevation from smoking tobacco pushes smokers to inhale larger and larger amounts, exposing their bodies to growing amounts of nicotine. 
  • In addition to nicotine dependence, smoking addiction can also be the result of a genetic predisposition. As a result, a certain genetic makeup causes certain individuals to be more prone to develop smoking addiction, while others manage to only smoke sporadically.
  • Social pressure has also been shown to greatly influence the development of smoking addiction. Many smokers begin smoking at a young age and during social gatherings with their peers. This makes them more vulnerable to societal pressures, as they strive to fit in through shared experiences, such as smoking.

Given the above trifecta of influences, smoking is extremely hard to quit, with only 7% managing to do so. In fact, 13.7% of the adult population are smokers, with one third of all of those who have smoked tobacco becoming daily users. Men tend to smoke more than women (15.6% vs. 12.0%, respectively) and 45 million of US Americans are considered smokers. All of this makes smoking a national and global health crisis.

A link has also been found between mental health issues and smoking: 18.7% of the general (not just adult) population are considered smokers, and 33% of those with a mental health condition smoke. Out of those in the mental health community, individuals facing depression are twice as likely to be smokers, while those with schizophrenia are three times as likely to smoke.

Though the association between the mental illness and smoking is certainly significant, the causation between them remains unclear. It is not yet known whether mental illness induces higher rates of smoking, the other way around, or if both are caused by a separate factor, such as socioeconomic status.

Regardless of directionality, though, it has been shown that the more severe a mental health condition is, the more likely the individual contending with it is a smoker. This stands to reason, as smoking (for those already addicted to it) offers a temporary reprieve from feeling anxious and stressed, while exacerbating such emotions when the act of smoking is denied to them for an extended period of time.

The detrimental effects of nicotine inhalation have been clearly recorded. They include cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular illnesses, lung disorders and other significant health problems. Some 8 million individuals die from nicotine-related issues each year.

Mental Health Symptoms when quitting smoking

Mental Health Symptoms that Arise During the Cessation Process

When you quit smoking, your body goes through a withdrawal process. During the first few weeks, certain physical symptoms, such as headaches and increased appetite, may arise. It also includes several emotional and cognitive symptoms, which make the cessation process much more difficult to tolerate.

Some of the more common non-physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are irritability, moodiness, and sadness, which assail the individual and make them want a cigarette to calm their nerves. Many also describe symptoms of anxiety and depression as a result of starting smoking cessation. The symptoms include low mood or difficulty concentrating (depression), or tenseness (anxiety). Luckily, these symptoms normally begin to pass within the first few weeks, as the cessation process becomes easier to cope with.

For some individuals, smoking cessation also brings with it a new mental health battle: body image. The cravings and urges to eat larger quantities of food can bring about weight gain, which can cause (in addition to a number of other physical health concerns) a negative and critical view of one’s body. Contending with this issue may necessitate regular exercise, focusing on a healthier diet, and remembering that the cravings experienced during the cessation process do not last forever.

Mental Health Benefits that Arise Once You Quit Smoking

After the first month without cigarettes, former smokers begin to experience a variety of benefits. Their senses of smell and taste heighten, their blood circulation and breathing improve, and they begin to move toward an overall greater level of health that lowers their chances of developing a number of illnesses and complications. 

This is also true in terms of mental health. As their bodies begin to heal, individuals who no longer smoke feel more energized and as the tension that characterized their earlier stages of withdrawal dissipates, they find it easier to deal with adverse life events. Symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress have all been shown to decrease due to smoking cessation.

With former smokers’ general well-being on the rise, some are able—under the careful supervision of their physician—to begin lowering the dosage of their mental health medications. Smoking cessation has specifically been shown to act similarly to antidepressants, elevating the individual’s mood and allowing them to enjoy a better quality of life.