How can quitting smoking support my mental health?
It is common knowledge that stopping smoking leads to physical benefits just 8 hours after stopping, and reduces the risk of many physical long-term health complications, such as:
- Smoking-related cancers
- Heart disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Diabetes, and more.
However, what’s less known about, are the improvements stopping smoking has on mental health.
Smoking and mental health: The statistics
Research shows there is a strong bi-directional relationship between mental health and smoking:
- Approximately 30% of smokers in the UK having a mental health condition, and
- 40% of individuals with a mental health condition also reported to smoke.
Smoking prevalence is also higher among individuals with a mental health condition and has remained the same over the past 20 years, compared to a lower overall percentage in the general population with declining smoking rates over the years.
Statistics also show smoking prevalence to increase along with severity of mental illness, with individuals with mental health conditions reportedly:
- Smoking more often
- Displaying higher nicotine dependency
- At greater risk of smoking-related ill health and mortality compared to the general population
However, what is shown to be the same between groups, is the motivation to quit. Research also dictates that making a quit attempt whilst receiving treatment for a mental health condition does not worsen mental health but improves it. Therefore, the benefits and importance of making a quit attempt are positive whether an individual is experiencing poor mental health or not and remains the most preventable cause of death and illness in the world.
So, how does a quit attempt support improved mental health?
Stopping smoking is shown to improve mental health with reports from Public Health England showing current smokers to have:
- Poorer mental health
- Higher anxiety
- Lower scores on measures of happiness than non-smokers.
A recent Cochrane review involving nearly 170,000 people found reduced rates of anxiety, depression, and stress just 6 weeks after participants had stopped smoking.
Quitting is also associated with an improved quality of life, confidence, and personal satisfaction from being able to stick to a goal and achieve it, whilst reaping the benefits from improved breathing, circulation, complexion, and overall health.
Smoking cigarettes provides a short-term energy boost and dopamine release; however, after a few minutes, these effects fade, and cravings kick in, which resemble anxiety, sadness, and a feeling of restlessness. Those with a mental health condition may mistake these withdrawal symptoms for side effects of their medication, or perhaps an anxiety attack; therefore, smoking is seen as a relief to these symptoms, as opposed to causing them in the first place.
Stopping smoking ceases the recurrence of withdrawal symptoms over time, alleviating the negative feelings that follow, such as stress and anxiety. Smoking can also reduce the effectiveness of some psychiatric medication, leading to increased side effects. Therefore, reducing, or stopping smoking, can lead to a reduced dosage, improving mental health from fewer side effects.
Another concern that stopping smoking can cause, is feeling that social relationships and dynamics will change. However, research shows that stopping smoking does not lead to a reduction in social well-being, but instead, shows evidence for increased social well-being.
“When people stop smoking their mental health improves, whereas those who do not stop smoking have no improvement.” – Professor of Behavioural Medicine at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences
So, if you’re thinking about quitting, along with the positive physical health benefits you will experience, consider also how it will improve your mental health and social wellbeing too. With the winter months approaching, a positive outlook and improved mood will be a welcomed addition to help stay motivated with your goals throughout!
Stoptober encourages smokers to stop smoking for 28 days throughout the month of October. Stopping smoking for 28 days means you’re 5 times more likely to quit for good. For more information and resources, please visit the NHS website – Better Health, Quit Smoking.
NHS Digital. Health Survey for England 2017 [NS]. 2018.
Office for National Statistics. Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2017.
Public Health England. Public Health Profiles.
Szatkowsk L, McNeill A. Diverging trends in smoking behaviours according to mental health status. Nicotine & Tobacco Research 2015; 3:356-60
Taylor et al (March, 2021). ‘Smoking cessation for improving mental health’. Cochrane. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD013522.pub2
The Royal College of Physicians. Smoking and mental health London, RCP, March 2013. https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/smoking-and-mental-health