Clearing The Air: Mental Illness In Relation to Smoking

The other day I was at a sports bar people watching, something I commonly do, when an attractive waitress caught my attention. I watched as she went outside on her break and then did the most disgusting and disfiguring thing, she put a cigarette between her lips and lit it.

I was shocked as I watched her inhale and then exhale a white puff of smoke. She had to be aware of the astounding amount of health issues related to smoking from cancer to cardiovascular disease, and she was smoking by herself so there weren’t any apparent social benefits, so how could someone so young and beautiful be putting that carcinogenic smoke into her body?

I immediately started thinking that she had to be self-medicating for one reason or another and that got me to thinking, is that why so many people are still smoking, can they all be self-medicating with nicotine and if so, from what?

The first obvious answer to me was stress. A lot of people smoke because they are stressed out and use nicotine to help calm their nerves. A study I read said that approximately 30% of people who smoke do so because they are depressed. For these people, nicotine actually helps them feel better, if only temporarily. These people instead of learning how to deal with their depression through counseling and appropriate anti-depressants if needed, have learned to depend on nicotine. Evidence of this came from U.S. clinical trials for Wellbutrin, an anti-depressant. During the trial to see how effective Wellbutrin was on depression, a fair number of participants who smoked suddenly stopped smoking. With drug companies being as clever as they are, Wellbuturin was soon not only sold as an anti-depressant, but was repackaged and renamed as Zyban and sold as a treatment to help people quit smoking.

Also, in an article called “Smoking in relation to anxiety and depression: Evidence from a large population survey: The HUNT study” published in European Psychiatry, it was shown that anxiety and depression were the two most common complaints in people who smoke, with anxiety being the highest complaint, followed by anxiety and depression combined and then depression by itself.

People with mental health issues, even if they are underlying, are twice as likely to smoke as the rest of the population. So it is possible that the people around you who smoke, your spouse, your friend, your family member, (or even you if you smoke) may actually be self-medicating for an untreated and undiagnosed issue that needs to be attended to. With proper treatment, they may lose the desire to smoke altogether. Encourage them to talk to their doctor, health care provider or other mental health provider about how their mood factors in with their urges to smoke.

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