The Link Between
Smoking & Mental Health

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Smoking Harms Everyone

But Smoking Prevalence is Much Higher Among People with a Mental Illness

The Issue

People with a mental illness are more likely to be smokers than people without a mental illness

The Disparity

31% of adults with a mental illness smoke, compared to 21% of adults without a mental illness

Why Is This?

There are several additional smoking risk factors that are associated with mental illness.


According to the CDC 31% of adults with a mental illness are smokers, and they will smoke more cigarettes each month than the national average.

The illnesses included in this statistic are numerous including depressive disorders, bipolar disorders, severe psychotic disorders and more.

Like all smokers, smokers with a mental illness have a much higher risk of contracting lung cancer, COPD, and cardiovascular disease. Diseases caused by smoking are the second biggest killer of people who have a mental illness.

So why does this disparity exist?

Nicotine is a very powerful drug, it is highly addictive regardless of mental health. However there are some factors that contribute to the higher rate of smoking in people with a mental illness.

For example, the American Psychological Association states that people with mood disorders can suffer much more intense withdrawal cravings compared to people without mood disorders. This increases the chances of relapse.

People with panic attacks may find it much more difficult to quit smoking because of the increased heart rate nicotine withdrawal causes. The elevated heart rate can trigger a panic attack, leading to relapsing and smoking a cigarette.

A common myth is that smoking relieves stress. People with depression may be more likely to start smoking to try and feel better. The truth is that smoking does not relieve stress and there are several proven techniques that can be used by a therapist to reduce stress levels instead of smoking.

Smoking in mental health facilities is common (sometimes even in facilities that are "smokefree") and some people become addicted while in treatment. In fact some facilities have even offered cigarettes or outdoor smoke breaks as a reward for good behavior or compliance with medication. Thankfully this practice is in less prevalent today that is once was, but it does still happen.

Through therapy and medication some people recover from their mental illnesses and are at a point where they no longer need to be in a treatment facility. When a person leaves treatment, they may take their new addiction with them. This can cause frustration as it often turns out to be much harder to quit than expected - potentially hindering recovery.


There are a wide range of ways smoking is detrimental to health, but smoking can cause issues for people with a mental illness in specific ways. For example, studies have shown that smoking can potentially be a cause of depression and in some cases increase the severity of the condition. On occasion nicotine can interfere with medication taken for a mental illness, producing unwanted side effects or reducing its efficacy.

Quitting smoking is the best thing any smoker can do to improve their health, regardless of if they have a mental illness or not. Below is a list of free resources that can help anyone on their journey quit smoking.

There has never been a better time to quit than now.

If you have any other questions about this awareness campaign, please get in contact with us using the email address here