Quit smoking now if you want better mental health (especially if you suffer from psychiatric problems)

By quitting cigarettes, people can improve their mental, as well as physical, health. This is the conclusion of a new study, conducted by researchers from Washington University.

Information was collected from two surveys of 35,000 people, conducted three years apart, just after the turn of the century. These studies included data from 4,800 smokers. Psychiatric disorders and addictions had a higher recovery rate among respondents who had quit, or reduced, tobacco products.

Those people who stopped smoking tobacco were found to be less likely to suffer from continued drug and alcohol addiction compared to those who continued using the intoxicant. Other psychiatric problems were also reduced among people who abstained from the drug.

People who did not suffer from psychiatric challenges at the time of the first survey were less likely to develop problems during the three-year stretch if they did not consume tobacco. At the time of the first study, 40 percent of daily smokers were classified as having a mood or anxiety disorder. One half were deemed to have a problem with alcohol, while 24 had issues with other intoxicants.

For people with anxiety and other disorder who continued to smoke, 42 percent had continued to be afflicted. This was the case for only 29 percent of those who quit tobacco. Continued abuse of alcohol was reduced from 28 to 18 percent by eliminating or reducing tobacco use. The use of other drugs was sliced by two-thirds - from 16 to five percent, among those who kicked the habit.

Clear benefits were shown both for those who completely quit tobacco, as well as those who cut down their consumption. Depression was lessened in those who cut their tobacco consumption in half.

This new research goes against a widely-held belief among many in the psychiatric community that smoking cigarettes is acceptable. While dealing with addictions to "harder" drugs, many mental healthcare professionals turn a blind eye to cigarette usage.

"Clinicians tend to treat the depression, alcohol dependence or drug problem first and allow patients to 'self-medicate' with cigarettes if necessary. The assumption is that psychiatric problems are more challenging to treat and that quitting smoking may interfere with treatment," lead investigator Patricia Cavazos-Rehg said.

For people suffering from mood swings or addictions, quitting tobacco may also provide an improved sense of well being.

"We don't know if their mental health improves first and then they are more motivated to quit smoking or if quitting smoking leads to an improvement in mental health. But either way, our findings show a strong link between quitting and a better psychiatric outlook," Cavazos-Rehg added.

This study encourages mental health clinicians to work with their patients to reduce tobacco use. In addition to the reported reductions of addiction, depression and other mental challenges, Cavazos-Rehg believes physical health benefits should also be considered by caregivers.

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