Smoking could increase risk of depression, bipolar disorder

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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Could smoking increase the risk of severe mental illness? Image credit: Joe Cohen/Stocksy.
  • Smoking is a common social practice that increases the risk of several health problems.
  • Data from a recent study suggest that people who smoke are at a much greater risk for hospitalizations due to mental illness.
  • Certain genetics may contribute to the risk of smoking intensity and mental illness hospitalizations.
  • The results indicate that helping individuals quit smoking may help to decrease severe mental illness.

Smoking is common in many societies, but growing evidence continues to demonstrate the potential dangers of the practice. One area of interest is the relationship between mental illness and smoking.

A​ study published in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica found that people who smoked were 258% more likely to experience hospitalization related to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.

Based on the timing of smoking initiation and the onset of mental illness hospitalization, it may be helpful to focus on smoking prevention and early quitting to help reduce hospitalizations from mental illness.

Researchers of this study utilized data from the UK Biobank, collected from over 330,000 participants. They calculated participants’ polygenic risk scores for traits including ever-smoking, smoking duration, and neuroticism (a tendency toward negative emotional states)

These scores helped measure someone’s genetic likelihood of developing certain smoking habits and mental illness.

Researchers found that participants were more likely to have started smoking before hospitalization for mental illness.

Their analysis further supported that the risk for hospitalization from mental illness was highest for current smokers and lowest for people who had never smoked.

The risk was moderately higher for people who had previously smoked than those who had never smoked.

The study authors summarize critical points of their findings thus:

“Genetic liability for smoking intensity has a crossover effect on hospitalization for major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Smoking behaviors have the same magnitude of effect on mental health hospitalization as genetic liability.”

So, if a person is genetically predisposed to smoking heavily, this same genetic factor could also increase their chances of being hospitalized due to severe mental Health conditions.

In addition, smoking, regardless of a person’s genes, could raise their risk of hospitalization related to mental health issues just as much as their genetic risk does.

Overall, this study contributes to growing evidence that helping people quit smoking can offer many health benefits, including reducing their risk of severe mental illness.

Professor of behavioral medicine with the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford in the U.K., Prof. Paul Aveyard, not involved in the study, noted the following to MNT:

“For a long time, professionals caring for people with mental illnesses have regarded smoking as a necessary coping mechanism. This attitude is changing because the evidence is increasing that smoking is a causal factor in mental illness and that stopping smoking may ameliorate it. Given the main cause of early onset non-communicable disease [is] preventable cardiovascular problems, supporting people to stop smoking should now be an imperative in services for people with mental illness.”

Quitting smoking can be a challenge, often requiring help from medical professionals and family and friends. Several resources are available, including support from counselors who can offer coaching and strategies to help with the challenges of quitting.

Doctors can also help by giving prescription medications that assist with some unpleasant side effects of quitting.

Friends and family can also create a supportive environment, such as by removing temptations for smoking and understanding common withdrawal symptoms. Using an individualized plan and support, a person who smokes can set themselves on a healthier path, physically and mentally.

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