People with behavioral health conditions are more likely
to smoke. Psychologists are among those working to
understand why and helping them quit.
BY KIRSTEN WEIR
Chad Morris, PhD, didn’t begin his career with tobacco in mind. His wake-up call came while reviewing best practices for treating bipolar disorder.
Mortality Weekly Report, Feb. 8). People with mental illnesses
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
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.