Nicotine Makes Anxiety Worse and More Difficult to Treat


Anxiety is often one of the triggers and complicating factors for a number of other mental illnesses, and the majority of people with diagnosable anxiety disorders smoke cigarettes. Unfortunately for those who suffer from anxiety, it rarely comes alone, and smoking tends to adversely impact anxiety, depression, OCD, and a slew of other common mental illnesses. Smoking is also disproportionately common among those with depression and anxiety problems.

People with mental illnesses have a range of unique and common incentives to quit. Whether they struggle with clinical anxiety or a different illness for which it is an exacerbating factor, the increased mortality of smokers is the strongest. The adverse health effects of smoking are well documents, and include a variety of cancers of the mouth, throat, and lungs, as well as other lung and breathing related illnesses and damage to the heart and pulmonary system that increase the chances of strokes and heart disease.

People with mental illnesses have a range of unique and common incentives to quit.

Smoking cigarettes and using nicotine in other forms also exacerbates anxiety disorders. Although it provides a temporary alleviation of anxiety during the initial stages of smoking, nicotine actually increases the heart rate and causes the body to release chemicals that aggravate the brain. Both of these tend to trigger feelings of anxiety. Further, smoking increases metabolism, which decreases the effectiveness of many antipsychotic medications, making treatment far less effective. These are just a few of the most obvious reasons why smokers with anxiety should perceive increased incentives to quit.

Of course, anxiety itself adds complications to the already difficult act of quitting. Nicotine withdrawal is particularly likely to increase anxiety. And the act of quitting, with the fear of withdrawal, the chance of failure, and concern about the social impact, also increases anxiety. So strategies for people with anxiety who want to quit smoking have to include coping with that anxiety and integrate treating the anxiety and the nicotine addiction.

If you or someone you love suffers from an anxiety disorder and wants to quit, there are a few clear steps to take to increase the chances of successful cessation. First, make sure the relevant medical professional is aware not just of the mental disorder, but also of the smoking and the attempt to quit. Hopefully, a new treatment plan can be devised that involves the help of experts to support the effort.

Second, a plan for coping with changes in anxiety that come from quitting and withdrawal is essential. The most important components of such a plan include having coping mechanisms in place for when cravings hit, being on the lookout for increased anxiety and ready with breathing exercises or other techniques to manage the response, and informing friends, family, and daily acquaintances so they can be understanding and supportive.

Quitting smoking is not easy for people with anxiety problems. But it is very important both to make managing and treating the anxiety easier, and to protect and improve general health. For more help and ideas about anxiety and beating smoking, sign up for the Beating Smoking newsletter at