Newfoundland and Labrador Smokers’ Helpline

mental illness & smoking

People with mental illness may smoke because they feel it alleviates some of the symptoms they experience from their illness and reduces the side effects of medication.  This effect is short term, lasting only a few minutes until nicotine levels in the body drop once again. For example, for individuals living with depression, smoking can create positive feelings triggered by the release of dopamine in the brain[1].  Dopamine is often lower in patients with depression so they may smoke as a way of temporarily creating those feelings of euphoria or positive emotion. The inhalation of nicotine triggers the brain to switch off its own biological mechanism for making dopamine, and after a period of time decreases its natural supply.

Chemicals in cigarette smoke increase the metabolism of some antidepressants and antipsychotic medications resulting in lowered levels in the blood. When an individual quits smoking, the levels of drug in the person’s blood may increase significantly and doses may need to be adjusted[2].

[1] Mental Health Foundation. (2007). Smoking and mental health: Why people smoke and how to quit. London: Mental Health Foundation.

[2] CAN-ADAPTT. (2011). Canadian Smoking Cessation Clinical Practice Guideline. Toronto, Canada: Canadian Action Network for the Advancement, Dissemination and Adoption of Practice-informed TobaccoTreatment, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health