If you’re in recovery for alcohol or drug addiction but you still smoke cigarettes, you’re not alone. It’s common for those who once struggled with an addiction to also have a nicotine addiction. However, interestingly, more and more research is pointing to a connection between mental illness and nicotine addiction.
One study found that nicotine receptors in the brain actually improved mood in certain types of depression. At the same time, this study also found that those who smoke are more likely to have symptoms of depression than those who do not. Depression is associated with an increased risk for smoking, and research has found that smoking is often a behavior that depressed adults engage in as a way to soothe their symptoms.
Someone with anxiety might also find some relief in nicotine and cigarette smoking. Research shows that when an individual smokes, nicotine raises levels of attention and triggers a flood of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that relaxes and temporarily relieves anxiety. Like other drugs that activate dopamine, the result of regular nicotine intake turns off the natural switch for dopamine, and the long term supply of this brain chemical decreases over time.
Despite the perceived ease of symptoms from mental illness, research indicates that nicotine actually increases anxiety over time. Also, the nicotine addiction will create cravings and withdrawal symptoms in someone who hasn’t smoked in certain period of time. Sadly, approximately 1,000 people die from nicotine-related illnesses every day, including lung cancer.
Perhaps learning the effects of smoking might encourage an increased effort to quit. Fortunately, there are various options to help you wean off nicotine. For instance, there are the products such as patches, gum, lozenges, and inhalers which can aide in the smoking cessation process. These products could be an effective tool to use when trying to quit smoking. However, it’s also important to know their side effects. These products might cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
In addition to these options, you might also try medication, prescribed by your doctor or psychiatrist. For example, you might take an antidepressant to help you quit. Because nicotine tends to help lift one’s mood, taking an antidepressant might actually replace the need for nicotine. For instance, Bupropion is a drug that is prescribed to help people resist the urge to smoke. It’s often used for 7-12 weeks helping someone wean off the habit of smoking. Side effects include insomnia, dry mouth, dizziness, headaches, and nausea.
Another drug to try is Varenicline. This drug was specifically designed to address nicotine dependence. It stimulates dopamine in the brain as well as limits or blocks nicotine receptors. Although this drug is successful for some people, it comes with some serious health warnings from the Food and Drug Administration.
If you have a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, it would be important to discuss options with your therapist or psychiatrist. It might be best to treat your mental illness first which could make it easier to quit smoking. Of course, you might not even be aware that you have a mental illness. In this case, if you’re having trouble quitting nicotine, contact a mental health professional who can assess whether a mental illness is a factor in nicotine addiction.
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