The effects of smoking on your health are well documented. Smoking cigarettes is known to cause around 90% of lung cancers, and can also cause cancer in other parts of the body, such as the mouth, liver, stomach and many more. It also increases your chances of getting heart disease or suffering a stroke.
However, what most people aren’t aware of is the harm that smoking can do to the brain. Here’s more important information about the cognitive benefits of stopping smoking.
The Damaging Effects of Smoking on the Brain
The Mental Health Foundation outlines the detrimental effects that smoking can have on the brain; which is largely due to the brain’s response to nicotine. It states that ‘at first, nicotine improves mood and concentration, decreases anger and stress, relaxes muscles and reduces appetite’. However, over time smokers become nicotine dependent, which means that they rely on cigarettes to maintain these positive feelings.
So far, so addicted. But what other damaging effects does smoking have on the brain, apart from addiction?
- Increased anxiety. Instead of reducing stress, research shows that smoking actually increases feelings of anxiety. The temporary relaxing effects of nicotine soon wear off, leaving smokers feeling just as stressed as ever, and craving another cigarette to reduce the feeling again.
- People with depression in the UK are twice as likely to be smokers as those without depression. The reason behind this is thought to be a chemical released in the brain, called dopamine. Nicotine helps to release dopamine, which in turn helps to trigger positive emotions. However, smoking encourages the brain to stop making dopamine naturally, which causes people to smoke more, in a bid to trigger the chemical release once again.
- More stressed. Ironically, given that many people use cigarettes as a way of calming down in stressful situations, smoking can actually exacerbate the problem. It can also cause unpleasant physical symptoms like a headache, which increases irritability.
Improve Your Mental Health… Stop Smoking!
According to new research published in the British Medical Journal, stopping smoking can improve mental wellbeing by a considerable margin. The research suggests that people may misunderstand the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, misinterpreting them for supposed psychological benefits of smoking.
The study focused on individuals who were around the age of 44, and who smoked approximately 20 cigarettes a day. Some were taken from the general population, others were being treated for clinical conditions, either psychological or physical.
By measuring levels of mental health based on factors such as anxiety, depression and stress, the researchers found that stopping smoking resulted in improvements in all of these areas. This applied equally to ‘normal’ participants from the general public, and those suffering with medical conditions.
The study also revealed that the life-span of people with mental health conditions is on average about 8 years less than the rest of the population; and that smoking may be contributing to this.
They conclude that: ‘Challenging the widely held assumption that smoking has mental health benefits could motivate smokers to stop’.