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Smoking and Mental Illness Are Statistically Comorbid

Statistically, more people with a mental illness smoke cigarettes than those who don't. The reasons why are numerous, and the benefits of quitting even more so.

I have an ulterior motive when writing this blog, rather, I need to vent a bit. I write about the importance of a healthy lifestyle within these blogs: food, diet, exercise, medication compliance, staying away from excess alcohol and even further away from drugs that are not prescribed to us. Far, far, far away, next country far! I mean these things. I practice what I preach.

But I have not, as I recall, mentioned cigarettes. Nicotine addiction. The chemicals that live in them. I have not spoken about this because I pretended  that nearly a decade of smoking, now at the age of twenty-six, I had yet to quit. Well, four long days ago I quit. Cold turkey.

More People With Mental Illness Smoke Cigarettes

Yes, they do. I am not making this up.  If one out of every ten people smoke, the statistics wavering at about 15% of people, those of us with a mental illness, well, the statistic is dire—nearly 50%. You might wonder: How the hell can she present me with statistics and expect me to believe her?

Google mental illness and cigarette smoking. If you have ever been confined to a psychiatric hospital, well, cigarettes are traded like gold. So, while the rate of smoking decreases each year, those of us who struggle with a mental illness find it hard to quit (How to Quit Smoking).

Why Do Many People With Mental Illness Smoke?

Now, if you do not smoke (and congratulations–sincerely) keep reading. You know someone who does. You want them to quit and they probably want to quit as well. Most people with a mental illness smoke because it makes them feel better. It’s a nervous habit. Have a psychiatric appointment you’re not looking forward to: have a cigarette! Is your mother coming to visit? have a cigarette! Angry, happy, depressed, manic? have a cigarette! Is the sunshine out today? Well, wouldn’t it be nice to have a cigarette when walking?

The list never ends. Sometimes, the positives seem to outweigh the negatives, particularly when we are struggling. Quitting smoking can be at the end of our list. If we enjoy smoking, and dammit we do, why should we quit?

We know the risks–death is reason enough. But we, I, keep puffing away.

When it’s Time to Quit Smoking and End Nicotine Addiction

You have probably been thinking about it more. Maybe you’re coughing more than usual, I was. Perhaps sick of cigarette smoke blocking your expensive cologne or perfume. And, of course, sick of people glancing at you–The Smoker.

We have options: the patches, the gum, the inhalers, the medications you probably cannot take because they interfere with your current medication, and advice to start jogging. Horrid, unappealing options, I agree. But if more people diagnosed with a mental illness smoke, well, more of us need to quit. We need to find alternative coping mechanisms.

Alternative Coping Mechanisms When Quitting Smoking–For Good

First, it is usually harder for those of us with a mental illness to quit smoking than those who are not living with one. We smoke to medicate our moods. Similar to putting down a bottle of beer or a drug (we’ll talk about this in a later post).

>Traditional approaches, the patch, the gum, those I mentioned above, they work if you work them. But when you walk into a drug store and see that a week of the patch costs as much as you spend on cigarettes, you recoil. Why should it be so expensive to quit? But it’s worth it. After you quit, after the patches no longer reside on your body for twenty-four hours at a time, you have more money. More money to save or  to buy yourself something nice.

>Make a list of what you can do with the money you save. If you smoke ten cigarettes a day, that’s a savings of nearly $3,000 a year. Do the math. That’s a nice vacation: a closet full of great clothing; a savings account that actually has money in it. Visualize these thing, digest them, write them down.

>Research the effect of cigarettes on your body. Get a chest x-ray. Nothing wakes you up more than seeing a picture of your once healthy lungs stained with black.

>Tell people you’re quitting. It makes you accountable.

>Try new age approaches–the ‘Electronic Cigarette’ is becoming popular. It has no nicotine or chemicals but simulates smoking.

>Go ahead and get more active! Buy healthy foods like fruit to avoid weight gain. You do not have to gain weight when quitting smoking. I have quit before–most of us have– and never have I gained weight.

>Use the many support groups, online, in person, on the phone. Use them.

As I write these words I’m a little irritated. Maybe a lot. It’s a good thing I don’t have a roommate. They might move out at this point. But it passes. Within a couple of weeks you feel better. How do I know this? Well, Mark Twain said it best: “Quitting smoking is easy, I’ve done it a thousand times!”

But you don’t have to and either do I. Let’s put down our pack of cigarettes, or encourage someone you know who smokes, and live a healthier life.

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10 thoughts on “Smoking and Mental Illness Are Statistically Comorbid”

  1. My 17-year-old son smokes. He is mentally ill..eventhoough he is young and we have not really determined a diagnosis. He’s been in a psychiatric hospital for 4 weeks today. He is off all illegal and legal substances including cigarettes, with the exception of his prescribed meds. Reading this helped me see what I believe I already knew about his smoking. He smokes a lot. He goes through a pack a day… he shares them with friends. His friends don’t have money so they take his, and then he’s out and he’s agitated and going nuts without them. Reading your blog helped me see how easily frustrating this subject can be. Because he has been dependent mentally on other habit-forming substances like marijuana and meth, I don’t pick on him about smoking. We just tell him we love him for who he is and not what he does. Someday we might be in a better position to offer other ways of coping in the name of health and wellness for him. I pray he is not a shriveled up 30-year old with black lungs still addicted to cigarettes. But, again… I pick my battles. Thanks so much for this.

  2. Yes, you are right. There are several reasons due to which people start smoking and slowly they become addictive. And this is the stage when they wants to quit but could not do that. E cigarettes are best alternative of traditional tobacco products.

  3. My uncle suffered really bad with depression and he smoked all the time. He tried so many times to give up but he accepted that his illness stopped him from giving up. When he was younger he used to smoke and gave up when he was 27. At the age of 42 he became seriously depressed and started smoking again. Now at the age of 46 he is still a very heavy smoker.

    He says that he has tried everything to stop but because of his depression he finds it very difficult to stop. He always says to me that giving up smoking is another worry added to his life. I hope he does quit as he is such a great guy to have around.

  4. I thought about using an electronic cigarette, but never seriously considered it. It looked too complicated and expensive. Still, much better than ordinary cigarettes.

    Good luck with the book.

  5. I quit smoking 4 months ago after smoking for about 10 years. I previously had stopped smoking here and there for a week or so but then started again so that doesn’t really count, maybe just useful as practice.

    I never considered the patches or gum because I didn’t like the products, it still contained nicotine which was what I wanted to be rid off.

    I bought a Quit Smoking Hypnosis audio recording and listened to it – almost worked. I did start to smoke about 50% less. After awhile the recording just irritated the crap out of me – you can only listen so many times to it before you get tired of the hypnotists voice.

    Anyway, next I bought a subliminal message recording, even though I am not sure how you are supposed to be aware of the subliminal message since it is basically inaudible. Yet it is not as irritating as someone telling you what to think and believe – you just hear the sounds of waves crashing on a beach etc. – and at least I would feel I was doing something to stop smoking. Maybe it helped, maybe it just created a kind of placebo effect.

    I think I finally just got so irritated at everything that comes with the smoking habit – the price tag, sinus problems, smell, lung problems, constant frustration at not being able quit – that I just quit.

    Strangely enough, I now do not want or feel like starting smoking again. I still think of it sometimes, but the emotional and behavioral chain seems to have snapped.

    I hope I never smoke again, not in this life or the lives that are yet in the far distance. Hope is eternal.
    My life hasn’t now suddenly changed dramatically for the better, neither has my health. But at least I have one less parasite sucking the will to live out of me.

    1. Hi, Dan!
      That’s really great news! I’m using an electronic cigarette that has no nicotine or chemicals–it just helps with the hand to mouth addiction. People think it may be strange, but it’s really working for me, as the Quit Smoking Hypnosis partially did for you….and, yes, that ‘voice’ is highly irritating:)
      Thank you for sharing your success!
      Natalie

  6. i have been a smoker for 40 years. It was only 7 years ago that I was “officially” diagnosed with bipolar. In reading some info recently I discovered that I’ve been bipolar my whole life. I started smoking at 18 – mostly socially while out with my friends. Then it became a real habit. Do “it” while on the phone, do “it” while your reading, etc. I’m still doing a pack a day but am seriously considering Q day in the next month. Will I miss it – you betcha. Will I miss the “stigma” that is now attached to being a cigarette smoker? – no way!!

    1. Hi, Cathy:
      I agree! Everything “required” a cigarette. But I can tell you, almost two weeks in, that it has been much easier than I ever thought possible!
      Thanks for the comment and let’s continue to Quit!
      Natalie

  7. You said, “If we enjoy smoking, and dammit we do, why should we quit? We know the risks–death is reason enough. But we, I, keep puffing away…” perhaps because we do not value our lives? Indeed, we may not care if something would kill us – we might even be glad if it did, relieving us of the problems around killing ourselves.

    1. Hi, Graham:
      That may be true. It was for me for many years but those years were clouded in drugs and alcohol so it’s hard to pin-point why I had smoked for so long. You make a really great point (though sad) and thanks for commenting!
      Natalie

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