Newfoundland and Labrador Smokers’ Helpline

mental illness & smoking

Just like physical illness, there are many types of mental illness. For example: mood disorders (depression and bipolar disorder), schizophrenia, anxiety, personality and eating disorders, as well as substance and gambling addiction. Treatment is different for each individual and therefore individuals will deal differently with tobacco/nicotine addiction.

Tobacco use is a complex addiction involving physiological and psychological response components. It can be very challenging to quit. Only 3-5% of individuals who try to quit without support (i.e. counselling), nicotine replacement therapy, or cessation medications are successful in quitting.

Individuals living with mental illness and/or addictions may experience additional challenges in their journey to quit smoking. For instance, in addition to experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit smoking, people with mental illness have unique neurobiological features which can complicate these symptoms and make it more difficult to quit[1].

Furthermore, some individuals with mental illness may be more affected by nicotine withdrawal. For example, one withdrawal symptom is increased heart rate which can trigger an attack in people who suffer from panic attacks[2] making it more difficult for them to quit.


[1] Morris, C., Waxmonsky, J., May, M., Giese, A., Martin, L.(2009). Smoking cessation for persons with mental illnesses: A toolkit for mental health providers. Denver, Colorado: University of Colorado, Department of Psychiatry.

[2] Williams, J.M. & Ziedonis, D. (2004). Addressing tobacco among individuals with a mental illness or an addiction. Addictive Behaviors 29, 1067-1083.