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Smoking Rates Higher Among People with Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders


Adults with a mental illness or a substance use disorder represent about 25 percent of the U.S. population but account for nearly 40 percent of all cigarettes smoked in the country, according to a new study by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The researchers also said that the smoking rate among adults aged 18 and older with a mental illness or substance use disorder is about 38 percent, compared with less than 20 percent for those without these conditions.  This means that the current rate of smoking among adults with a mental illness or a substance use disorder is 94 percent higher than adults without the disorders, according to the SAMHSA report.  Adults with substance use disorders but not mental illness represent about 5 percent of the population, but smoke nearly 9 percent of all cigarettes.  Those with both a mental illness and a substance use disorder represent roughly 4 percent of the population, but smoke 9.5 percent of all cigarettes.

“It has long been a public-health priority to develop effective smoking prevention and cessation programs,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde said in a government news release.  “This report highlights a clear disparity.  It shows that people dealing with mental illness or substance abuse issues smoke more and are less likely to quit,” she said.  “We need to continue to strengthen efforts to figure out what works to reduce and prevent smoking for people with mental health conditions.”

The report findings are based on data from SAMHSA’s 2009 to 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.  SAMHSA and the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center have launched the 100 Pioneers for Smoking Cessation Campaign, which provides support for mental health and substance abuse treatment groups and facilities to help patients quit smoking.

The Connection Between Mental Illness and Smoking:

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 the social world in which we live.

From a brain-based perspective, research is being done to determine if and how nicotine is involved in some of the brain’s memory 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.  Previous research shows that people diagnosed with schizophrenia often smoke before the onset of symptoms, and they smoke more often and inhale more deeply than smokers without schizophrenia.

Psychologically, access to one’s addictive substance soothes 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 one’s 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.


Works Cited:

1. Smoking and mental illness. SAMSHA. 5 February 2013. Web. 20 March 2013.

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Filed under: Addiction, Alcohol and Drugs, Mental Illness, Research, Substance Abuse · Tags: Addiction, Adults, brain, cigaretts, cognition, concentration, Cravings, memory, mental health, mental health culture, mental illness, nicotine, SAMHSA, smoking, smoking cessation, smoking prevention, social norms, socialization, substance abuse, substance use, substance use disorder, U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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