Tobacco & Depression: A Natural Remedy to a Biopsychosocial Syndrome

Smoking may exacerbate symptoms of depression, especially in instances of prolonged use. Substituting tobacco products with smoking cessation aids may alleviate symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, and further decrease symptoms of depression.


The links between tobacco use and depression has long been studied, but not entirely understood. Researchers were unsure of whether smoking led to depression, or whether those who were depressed were more likely to take up smoking. The answers are finally becoming clear, however, and they may help smokers and sufferers of depression alike to better understand their compulsions, and help them quit.

How Depression and Smoking are Linked

Cigarette smoking and depression symptoms have always held an association. It was once believed that depressed individuals were more likely to smoke, since nicotine is a perceived stress reducer, and is often used as a form of self-medication by those who suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. Those who suffer from a mental illness are far more likely to smoke than the general population, and cigarettes’ perceived stress relief capabilities were long believed to be the reason.

It was also once assumed that quitting may affect treatment outcomes in those who were depressed or who suffered from some other form of mental illness. This has also been shown to be false, as quitting may actually help alleviate symptoms of depression over time.

One surprising finding researchers have discovered in recent studies, according to the American Psychological Association, is that smoking seems to cause depression just as often as depressed individuals start smoking. In a study examining high school students, those who were depressed were more likely to increase their smoking over time. Additionally, they found that those who smoked were more likely to note an increase in depressive symptoms over time.

This is probably due, in part, to tobacco’s thousands of chemicals found in cigarette smoke. Nicotine, and other chemicals may affect brain chemistry, resulting in a fluctuation of hormones and imbalance naturally occurring brain chemicals. This can lead to mood swings and other mental and emotional health issues. Since quitting can lead to mood swings and other psychological issues in those who do not have a pre-existing condition, some believe that quitting may pose additional issues for those who suffer from depression and other problems. While certain precautions may need to be taken for these individuals, quitting is still recommended for those who suffer from mental illnesses, as smoking may exacerbate these conditions.

Additionally, smoking leads to serious health complications. Cardiovascular disease, stroke, COPD, lung infections, asthma, allergies, and other serious and chronic health problems have all been definitively linked to smoking tobacco products. Not only are these often life-threatening, but they can also exacerbate symptoms in those with, and without pre-existing mental illnesses. This alone is reason to quit.

Precautions for Depressed Smokers Trying to Quit

Although smoking can make the symptoms of depression worse, nicotine withdrawal can lead to temporary anxiety and other symptoms. For this reason, precautions may be taken to prevent an excessive increase in symptoms for those suffering from depression. Antidepressant medications may be used during the quitting period (and possibly after) to reduce troubling psychological feelings.

In some cases, a nicotine replacement product may be beneficial for quitters who experience depression. This may come in the form of patches, gum, or e-cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes may be preferable for those with depression, as they continue to simulate the act of smoking, and replaces the nicotine from analogue cigarettes, thus, avoiding nicotine withdrawal symptoms altogether.

According to Psych Central, new medications are also available which may help reduce cigarette cravings and treat depression at the same time. All medications have potential side effects, however, so patients should speak with healthcare professionals before deciding on a cessation aid.