PR Campaign To Prevent Teen Smoking

People living with mental illness have a very high rate of smoking tobacco. A study by The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 44.3 percent of all cigarettes in America are consumed by individuals who live with mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders. This means that people living with mental illness are about twice as likely to smoke as other persons.

Fortunately, people who live with mental illness had substantial quit-rates, which were almost as high as the group without mental illness. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) has led many changes in our mental health system.

There is no one single, certain reason why so many people who live with mental illness smoke. It may be a combination of brain effects, psychological effects and social factors.

Research is underway to determine how nicotine is involved in some of the brain’s functions. If nicotine is a factor, then this could explain why so many people living with an illness like schizophrenia or other illness involving cognitive deficits may smoke. Even though smoking is thought to enhance concentration and cognition, the effects are short in duration.

Researchers and the medical community have a great deal to learn about how smoking impacts the brains of those living with mental illness. It is known that people diagnosed with schizophrenia often smoke before the onset of symptoms and that they smoke more often and inhale more deeply than smokers without schizophrenia.

People with serious mental illness treated in the public health system die a startling 25 years earlier than those without mental illness, according to a 2006 article in Preventing Chronic Disease. The problem hasn’t improved in the years since, Morris notes, and all too often, smoking is part of that mortal equation.

Tobacco-related illnesses including cancer, heart disease and lung disease are among the most common causes of death in this population. And Americans with mental illnesses have a 70 percent greater likelihood of smoking than the general population, according to new findings from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People with mental illness also smoke more often than smokers without mental illness, says Tim McAfee, MD, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health and a co-author of the report. “We can’t just ignore this population.”

Experts attribute the link between smoking and mental illness to a number of factors. Biochemistry probably plays some part. “Nicotine is a very powerful drug, and that’s true whether somebody has a mental illness or not,” says Judith Prochaska, PhD, MPH, a psychologist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center at Stanford University.

In some cases, people with mental illness may be using tobacco to mask symptoms or medication side effects, McAfee says. Some might also be more affected by nicotine withdrawal. “People with panic attacks, for instance, may have a harder time quitting because the symptoms of withdrawal — such as increased heart rate — can trigger an attack,” he says.

Nicotine can improve attention and concentration, Morris says — appealing benefits for some mental health patients. However, nicotine’s benefits are short lived. Its effects last only about five minutes at a time, Morris says. In any case, he adds, the possible advantages of nicotine shouldn’t equate to a free pass for smokers. “Of course there’s a benefit to any drug, that’s why people use them,” he says. “But there are better coping strategies.”

While we still have a lot to learn about why people smoke, there is plenty of information to support the serious health risks of smoking. So while there may be good reasons why you were attracted to smoking, the key is to figure out ways to increase rates of quitting. Nicotine isn’t a health problem on its own, but when smoked and combined with hundreds of other chemicals that are present in cigarettes the practice of smoking is toxic.

Psychologically, all addictions soothe cravings. People often find themselves relaxed and less tense when their addiction is fed. This is true of cigarette smoking. Smoking can also be part of a social norm, one where people in your social circle all hang out and smoke. Some people who live with mental illness learned to smoke in a hospital or in group-living settings. These examples help illustrate how the mental health culture needs to move forward to reduce the tie between socialization and smoking.

People die from smoking-related illnesses. Every year, smoking kills about 200,000 people who live with mental illness. Smoking harms nearly every organ of your body and diminishes your overall health. Smoking is a leading cause of cancer and of cancer-related death.

Smoking also causes heart disease, stroke and lung disease. With the increased risk of heart disease from second-generation atypical antipsychotic medications (SGAs), individuals living with mental illness must try to quit.

Inhaled cigarette smoke is made up of 4,000 chemicals, including cyanide, benzene, ammonia and carbon monoxide to name a few. There is no safe tobacco product, so switching to a smokeless or chew product will not eliminate your risk of smoking-related diseases.

People are finally waking up to the fact that smoking is a true health hazard, and people need to quit in order to live longer. More psychiatric facilities are going smoke-free, and NAMI is advocating for access to smoking cessation in outpatient settings.

Research shows that people living with mental illness do not have worse symptoms after they quit smoking. Quitting the habit is hard work, and it may take many efforts to be successful. If you are a smoker and you quit, you can usually get the same treatment results from lower doses of psychiatric medications. Smoking breaks down medicines in your body, so smokers need to take higher doses than nonsmokers.

Diabetes is a big issue for many people who live with mental illness, which increases the chances of premature death. Smoking and battling diabetes is twice as dangerous. Smokers with diabetes are 11 times more likely to have a heart attack.

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