The South African Depression and Anxiety Group hosted a press event with an international speaker, Professor Anthenelli – a Professor of Psychiatry from the University of California, who spoke about the relationship between smoking and mental illness with the focus strictly on nicotine.
Some important questions were asked and myths were busted, these are some of the issues that were raised:
Nicotine and addiction.
Addiction is defined by the World Health Organization as “repeated use of a psychoactive substance or substances, to the extent that the user is:
- periodically or chronically intoxicated,
- shows a compulsion to take the preferred substance(s),
- has great difficulty in voluntarily ceasing or modifying substance use,
- exhibits determination to obtain psychoactive substances by almost any means, and
- tolerance is prominent and a withdrawal syndrome frequently occurs when substance use is interrupted.”
Why do people smoke?
Parental influence, peer pressure, risk-taking behaviour, self-medication/stress relief, advertising/media influence and some people have a genetic disposition towards addiction which makes it hard for them to resist the habit.
Why is it so difficult to stop smoking?
According to the World Health Organization, one person dies every six seconds due to tobacco. That is six million people a year, making tobacco the leading cause of death in the world. With that in mind, why do people still continue to smoke?
Difficulty in quitting is a sign of addiction. Tobacco dependence is an addictive disorder, with nicotine being the addictive substance. The other reason is that when smokers try to quit, they go through withdrawals which include symptoms ranging from craving for nicotine, irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, sleep disturbances, decreased heart rate, and increased appetite or weight gain.
Some are afraid that if they quit they will get addicted to something else. “That is incorrect, just because someone has an addiction does not mean that when they stop they have to get addicted to something else.” said Prof. Anthenelli.
So, what is the relation between smoking and mental illness?
Smoking rates are higher among people with mental illnesses, such as depression, schizophrenia or bipolar. They find it harder to quit and have more severe withdrawal symptoms. It is unclear whether depression leads to smoking or if smoking leads to depression. The relationship between the two is complex.
What about second-hand smoke?
Second-hand smoke is just as dangerous. Of the six million deaths caused by tobacco, more than 600 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
Ways to quit?
Nicotine Replacement Therapy is a collective name for a range of products containing small amounts of nicotine that are designed to help people stop smoking. These products include: nicotine gum, patches, inhalers and lozenges.
“There’s counselling for tobacco cessation but one of the most effective ways to quit smoking is through social support” – Prof. Anthenelli.
Food for thought, hope this information makes you think of your health and well-being, even if it helps one of you to quit smoking or even stops you from taking that first drag!
Feature image by Nick DeLuca.