Depression and smoking: why they're a bad mix

Published at 11 July, 2023 14:10.

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In an era where mental health issues are becoming increasingly prevalent, the link between depression and smoking is more pertinent than ever. On this 'Talk to Us Day' initiated by the Samaritans, we at Yorkshire Smokefree feel compelled to shed light on this intertwining relationship. To contribute to this global conversation, we aim to provide resources and inspire change to improve individual health and well-being.

'Talk to Us Day' initiated by the Samaritans

'Talk To Us Day', an initiative from the Samaritans, highlights the importance of communication in battling loneliness, despair, and depression. As an organisation, Yorkshire Smokefree believes in the power of open conversations and empathetic listening to combat the struggles associated with smoking cessation.

The link between smoking and depression is complex and often under-discussed. Through aligning ourselves with 'Talk To Us Day', we want to reinforce that talking about these struggles is not a sign of weakness but a step towards overcoming them. By openly discussing the harmful synergies of depression and smoking, we hope to offer encouragement, shed stigma, and encourage those struggling to reach out.

The symptoms of smoking and depression

Smoking and depression are two health challenges that often exist together, each influencing and amplifying the symptoms of the other. 


This is a physical addiction; the most noticeable symptoms include intense cravings, irritability, difficulty concentrating, increased appetite, and disrupted sleep patterns. Long-term effects of smoking include persistent coughing, shortness of breath, decreased lung function, and a higher risk of developing heart disease and numerous types of cancer


This mental health disorder is characterised by persistent sadness or lack of interest in outside stimuli. Common symptoms include feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fatigue or low energy, difficulty thinking or making decisions, changes in appetite or weight, and thoughts of death or suicide. 

While it's clear that the symptoms of smoking and depression can be severe when experienced individually, the interplay between them can create an even more challenging health scenario. The good news is that support and treatment are available.

The link between smoking and depression

Smoking rates are much higher among people with mental health conditions than those without. Of the 6 million people who smoke, 230k smokers have a severe mental illness (including 1.6 million with depression and anxiety.)

Understanding this complex relationship is paramount in the quest for smoke-free living. But why is this?

One reason is that nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes, has mood-altering effects that can temporarily alleviate the feelings of sadness, anxiety, and low mood associated with depression. As a result, individuals struggling with depression may turn to cigarettes as a form of self-medication. 

However, this is a dangerous route to take. The temporary relief provided by smoking is just that – temporary. As the effects of nicotine wear off, withdrawal symptoms kick in, often intensifying feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. This can trap individuals in a vicious cycle, where they smoke to relieve these symptoms but, in doing so, merely perpetuate them.

Moreover, long-term smoking has been linked to an increased risk of depression. This could be due to the myriad of physical health issues caused by smoking, including heart disease and cancer, which can contribute to developing mental health conditions.

Lastly, it's worth noting that quitting smoking is often harder for people with depression. This is due to various factors, such as stronger nicotine dependence and a higher likelihood of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms.

However, quitting smoking can significantly improve mental health. Research has shown that people who stop smoking experience a decrease in depression, anxiety, and stress, and an increase in positive mood and quality of life, compared with those who continue smoking.

Triggers for cigarette smoking and depression 

Understanding the triggers for smoking when dealing with depression is critical for adequate recovery and maintaining good mental and physical health. In this section, we delve into some of the most common triggers, hoping that this knowledge can help your journey towards smoke-free living.

  1. Stress and Anxiety: Stressful situations and anxiety are common triggers for depression and smoking. Smoking is often used as a coping mechanism, providing temporary relief from stress but ultimately contributing to a cycle of dependency.
  2. Social Situations: Social gatherings where others are smoking can trigger a craving, especially when feeling down or out of sorts. Depression often makes it challenging to refuse a cigarette in these scenarios, as the temporary relief can seem appealing.
  3. Routine: The chronic nature of smoking—having a cigarette after a meal, during a break, or while drinking—can also act as a trigger, especially if these routines are tied to moments when depressive symptoms are heightened.
  4. Negative Emotions: Negative emotions such as sadness, anger, and loneliness can exacerbate depression and prompt a desire to smoke. It's crucial to note that smoking does not resolve these emotions; instead, it often deepens feelings of depression over time.
  5. Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol can lower your inhibitions, making it more difficult to resist the urge to smoke. It's especially problematic for individuals with depression, as alcohol can exacerbate symptoms and hinder recovery.

Understanding these triggers is the first step towards addressing them

Giving up smoking and depression

If you're dealing with depression and trying to quit smoking, it can feel like you're stuck in a relentless cycle. The stress, anxiety, and mood swings caused by nicotine withdrawal can seem to worsen your depressive symptoms, making the task of quitting all the more challenging. But with the right strategy and support system, breaking free is possible. Here are some steps you can take:

Reach out for professional help:

Both depression and smoking addiction are severe health conditions that benefit from professional treatment. Doctors, therapists, and quit-smoking services like Yorkshire Smokefree can provide invaluable advice, support, and tools to manage these conditions. Antidepressants or other medications may also be recommended to manage depressive symptoms, which can make quitting smoking more manageable.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): 

CBT is a therapy proven effective in treating depression and smoking addiction. It involves changing the thought patterns that lead to harmful behaviours and feelings. A therapist trained in CBT can help you develop healthier coping mechanisms and more positive thought patterns.

Physical activity:

Regular exercise can play a crucial role in managing depression and smoking cessation. Physical activity releases endorphins, the body's natural mood lifters, and can help distract from cravings. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days.

Mindfulness and relaxation techniques:

Mindfulness meditation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques can help manage cravings and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Focusing on the present moment lets you let go of negative thoughts and desires.

Support groups:

Sharing your experiences with others facing the same challenges can be highly beneficial. Support groups provide a safe, understanding environment where you can gain encouragement and learn from others' experiences.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT):

 NRT can be a valuable tool for managing withdrawal symptoms when quitting smoking. Available in various forms, like patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers, and nasal spray, NRT can help reduce cravings and make quitting more bearable.

Setting small, achievable goals:

Set realistic, manageable goals for yourself. Whether going one day without a cigarette or making it through a stressful situation without smoking, small victories can add to significant progress over time.

Smoking and depression support near me 

Remember, quitting smoking while dealing with depression can be challenging, but it's far from impossible. You're not alone in this journey. Contact Yorkshire Smokefree, or another trusted resource, to start your journey towards a healthier, smoke-free life with our help.