Bipolar Disorder and Cigarette Smoking: Why We Do It

April 21, 2018 Hannah Blum

I have bipolar 2 and have been smoking cigarettes for 9 years. I'm going to tell you why I smoke and why it's difficult to quit smoking when you have bipolar disorder. Check out my HealthyPlace bipolar blog.

Smoking cigarettes when you live with bipolar disorder is one of the unhealthy habits we are supposed to feel ashamed about and hide from others. However, I believe hiding it makes it all the more tempting and talking about it as if it represents instability does more harm than good.

Instead of providing information that reveals what we already know, that cigarettes and nicotine addiction are harmful to us, I am going to give you my reason for smoking cigarettes, my opinion on why those of us who live with bipolar disorder do it and the reason it is difficult to quit smoking.

Why Individuals Living with Bipolar Disorder Smoke Cigarettes?

I have been smoking cigarettes on and off for the last nine years. When I went to college, my smoking habit became more frequent. In times of hypomania or rapid cycling, my tobacco consumption increases. It is an indicator for me to reel myself back in. However, even when I am not hypomanic, I still smoke cigarettes.

In my situation, having bipolar 2 disorder, smoking cigarettes allows me to gather my thoughts and center myself. It's a habit that many of us living with bipolar have taken on as a way to cope with stress, depression, and overwhelming thoughts. It is not a valid excuse for using a potentially deadly substance, but it is the truth. I have quit smoking cigarettes in the past, and it wasn't the nicotine addiction that got me back into it; it was what the habit of smoking provided me that caused me to light up again.

The Reason Its Difficult to Quit Smoking When You Live with Bipolar

It is difficult to quit smoking for anyone regardless of mental illness, but when you live with bipolar disorder, it is a different type of challenge. It is the fear of losing something that helps you cope with your bipolar disorder. When you live with bipolar disorder, you struggle to release control or allow other individuals to dictate your path. We know that it could cause cancer, and we know that we need to stop, but lecturing individuals into quitting cigarettes makes it more difficult.

I could write out the lengthy list of alternatives to smoking cigarettes, such as e-cigs and Nicorette, but it would be reiterating something that we already know. As unhealthy as consuming tobacco is, I am not prepared to quit. I am not naive to the consequences I may have to pay for this unhealthy habit, but it makes it more challenging to quit smoking when people make you feel as though it represents instability. In my opinion, judging individuals who live with bipolar disorder so harshly for consuming tobacco has the opposite effect.

It is difficult to quit smoking when you live with bipolar disorder, but it is essential that at some point we make an effort to stop. I believe the first step in doing so is asking ourselves why we do it in the first place. If we can confront the reason for the habit, it may help us to find a healthier alternative.

If you have any tips or advice for quitting smoking as someone who lives with bipolar disorder please share them in the comment section below.

APA Reference
Blum, H. (2018, April 21). Bipolar Disorder and Cigarette Smoking: Why We Do It, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Hannah Blum

Hannah Blum is the HealthyPlace YouTube bipolar disorder vlogger. Check out her I'm Hannah. I Have Bipolar 2 playlist and subscribe to the HealthyPlace YouTube channel. You can also find Hannah on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

January, 11 2023 at 8:36 pm

I am bipolar too and all I know is I quit three days ago and I have been crying the whole time. My husband does not know how to handle me and that makes me angry. Smoking helped me stay in control. Not sure what to do. Or when this will pass.

March, 7 2023 at 9:06 am

Susan! You Are doing the almost Impossible! Of Course WE cry, it is Super hard. This is my day Six, I’ve only been awake an hour and I’ve already cried. It IS getting better day by day, hour by hour. Hard candy, staying busy, naps, nicotine Replacement (NOT vaping!!!), yes Crying, you tube hypnosis quit smoking while sleeping, a mindfulness cigarette motion (touching lips a few times as you breathe in), HUGS and Praise from loved ones are what has helped me. Best of luck for your success in life! Suzanne

January, 5 2023 at 6:41 pm

I believe my son is Bipolar and I am looking for things that make it hard for him to function. it appears Menthol Cigarettes created a disturbance, and he shuts down walking around like he has an excruciating headache, and his body is stiffens up. He gets to the point he does not even recognize your speaking to him or cannot listen and just keeps walking around and pacing in a small area.
Anyone find Menthol creates this effect as well? Any support groups to help a parent deal with an adult child tha will not seek or accept help?

Karen King
June, 30 2022 at 10:17 am

I am bipolar and can’t seem to give it up either. I can go a days without it but when I am anxious (and that is quite often) a couple cigs sure does help. My husband said I had an illness with cigarettes you just can’t quit. I replied yes I do have an illness.

April, 28 2022 at 11:17 am

I loved your article. So seldom do people talk of the reasons why we (BP's) smoke beyond the nicotine. I started smoking again after 14 years off - whilst in a psychiatric hospital. It was and has remained a space that I can make my own. I also find it steadies down my hand tremor (Lithium gift). It is bad for my health but so is the rest of it and I have no plans to stop. It is also something people can say about me other than how my condition presents! Good luck to anyone who wants to stop though. It is a healthy choice.

Retired Registered Nurse
August, 29 2019 at 10:54 am

My heart goes out to people who have the courage to step forward each day with bipolar disorder. Their loved ones also need support and education about this mental illness and challenging journey. There is also a strong genetic component in many families, and there should be no shame in seeking help. Sadly, people are afraid they will be stigmatized if they are exposed as having this illness, instead of being more understood. I found the testimonials more helpful since they relate to living each day in the best way possible while challenged with brain chemistry that doesn't always cooperate. Thanks for sharing. So many will be helped by this information.

March, 24 2019 at 2:35 am

I smoked for 27 years I decided it was time to quit the stinky sticks after a long bout of chest complaints astma copd that funky stuff. Anyway I moved into the world of vaping and am not seen without one. Not only has it replaced cigarettes but its also a hobby as I make a lot of parts I use. But I agree with you. Like I say it was only health reasons I gave up Im still addicted to a small amount of nicotine and I'm certainly not putting my vape device down! Enjoy your life.

March, 20 2019 at 6:40 pm

I started smoking in my 30's which coincided with my bipolar diagnosis.
I smoke more in social situations other than that, I alternate between smokes and gum. I find that it calmes me.

March, 16 2019 at 12:05 pm

Perfect article and perfect comments. The worst is when ex-smokers try the "if I can do it, so can you," BS. I know I need to quit soon, but I FEAR the change of finding an alternative that won't suffice.

September, 7 2018 at 6:56 am

I use e-cig now but still have to have it! You couldn’t have said it better. It’s mine... all mine and I’m not willing to give it up now. It’s my way of relaxing and calming down. I do realize it alters my brain for a short time but I need that escape. Thank you!

August, 23 2018 at 4:35 pm

OMG, you put into words, exactly how I feel. I don't know if anyone close to me will ever understand but at least I know somebody else does. Thank you!

June, 27 2018 at 3:54 pm

I agree with Stacey Menendez. It not only calms me slightly, but allows me to go off on my own, without being questioned. No one wants to be around me if I am smoking. So even an excuse to disappear from a group of friends for 10 minutes, can sometimes be such a needed escape. I have quit so many times, just to come back. I have had a really though month and have just started again, even after I had an SVT incident recently. I have responsibilities and cant take a xanax and then drive or function the way I need to. So once again my car smells like an ashtray and I am in the backyard smoking in 108 weather. Honestly I know I will try to stop again, but I need a replacement that works for me. Vaping is too much of an annoying battle of batteries and coils and leaking, and settings when i am in need of calming.

Stacy Menendez
May, 17 2018 at 10:00 am

What an absolutely fantastic article. I feel the exact same way; when I smoke my cigs, I go out into the backyard (I don't smoke inside of the house). My sons and husband know that it's my time alone and that they should only come out to interact with me if it's pretty important.
So, I've created my own zen zone.

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