Smoking’s negative effects on the body are well-known. But what can nicotine do to your mind?

Older woman smoking cigarette outside Share on Pinterest
Branislava Živić/Stocksy United

Quitting smoking can be one of the toughest goals to achieve. Although challenging, kicking nicotine isn’t impossible and may yield immediate positive physical and mental health results.

A common myth about smoking is that it calms your nerves and relieves stress. But there is a proven correlation between smoking and depression. Still, the cause of this relationship is not well-understood.

The depressive effects of smoking occur in the active stages of nicotine dependency and recovery after quitting.

People who smoke may already have depression or anxiety and use nicotine as a coping mechanism. You could also develop depression just from smoking.

It’s also common to experience depression and mood swings as nicotine withdrawal symptoms once quitting smoking.

Like the “chicken and egg” question, many may wonder which comes first — does smoking cause depression, or do some people smoke because they might have depression?

Evidence suggests both, depending on the individual.

Still, it’s important to consider the relationship between smoking and mental health when quitting nicotine for good.

If you have depression, you’re not alone. Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 264 million people live with the disorder.

Typical symptoms of depression may include:

Talking with a doctor or therapist can be helpful if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression. A doctor and therapist can help:

  • screen your symptoms
  • rule out other possible conditions
  • diagnose depression or other conditions
  • work with you to design a treatment plan

A doctor can also help you develop a plan for quitting smoking. If you have depression, you may want to let a doctor or therapist know before you start the journey of kicking nicotine.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. But when you quit smoking, you can add years back to your life.

Smoking can yield numerous harmful effects on nearly every system in the body.

Cardiovascular system

People who smoke are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease leading to conditions such as:

Smoking causes blood vessels to become smaller and narrower, forcing your heart to beat faster and blood pressure to rise. This combination can cause blood clots to form quickly and other severe complications.

Respiratory system

Your lungs are the first organs exposed to the harmful effects of cigarette smoke. The damage in our airways can cause chronic lung diseases, such as:

For those who smoke and have asthma, an asthma attack can occur faster, last longer, and worsen symptoms.


Smoking is a leading cause of cancer, affecting many parts of the body. The types of cancer smoking causes include:

  • blood
  • bladder
  • kidney
  • liver
  • colon
  • oral

These and many other cancers can all be traced back to the damaging impact smoking has on our health.

Many people may smoke because they feel it helps relieve anxiety and stress. However, smoking can increase these symptoms.

The nicotine found in cigarettes and vaping devices is a stimulant. Its effects provide a temporary mood boost, but it can also mask already present signs of underlying mental health conditions. This may lead to long-term use, which could severely affect your mental and physical well-being.

Other mental health effects of smoking include:

For many years, researchers and doctors believed that smoking was a way for people to cope with symptoms of depression. However, research now shows that smoking may cause depression in some people.

Nearly half of people who smoke have a depressive disorder. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that people with depression may:

  • smoke at higher rates
  • smoke more often
  • be less likely to quit

Nicotine withdrawal

When you quit smoking and experience the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, you may experience mood swings. You may also feel like nicotine withdrawal enhances symptoms of anxiety and depression, but this is a common misconception.

Avoiding smoking can help with withdrawal symptoms. It’s often helpful to learn other coping mechanisms for what you may experience with nicotine withdrawal.

The decision to quit smoking may be one of the smartest choices you can make in your life — but the journey might not be easy. You’re not alone. There are many strategies, methods, and support groups that have helped countless people ditch smoking.

It may be best to avoid quitting “cold turkey” and instead gain new tools and support to help get you through recovery from nicotine. Using specific strategies and resources may also further improve your chances of long-term success.

You may have to try multiple strategies before finding a quitting method that sticks for you. Many people may fall back into smoking several times while trying to quit. If this happens, know that you’re not alone and that this is a typical part of recovering from substance use disorder.

Make a plan

A practical way to start your recovery from smoking is to build a “quit plan.” Here is an example of the steps you can add to your plan:

  1. Pick a quit date. Give yourself enough time to prepare and research your resources.
  2. Tell your loved ones about your plan. Their support can help you through the hard days of recovery.
  3. Avoid and remove any smoking triggers from your daily life. For example, if you always smoke with your morning coffee, maybe switch to hot tea.
  4. Identify why you want to quit smoking as a reminder to yourself of what you have to gain.
  5. Develop other coping strategies, such as exercise, chewing hard candy, or changing your routines.
  6. Reward yourself when you hit weekly and monthly milestones.

Talk with a doctor

There are many treatment options to help people quit smoking. Before deciding which is best for you, it may be a good idea to seek advice from a physician.

To help with nicotine cravings and withdrawal, some may find success with over-the-counter options, including:

  • nicotine patches
  • chewing gum
  • lozenges

Find support

Your chances of long-term success in quitting smoking could be higher when you have the support of others. Reaching out to your family and loved ones and letting them know what you are going through may be a great first step.

There are numerous self-help and support groups centered around quitting smoking. Some meet in person and others exist in a virtual space or online. Additional support for quitting nicotine can be found in:

  • apps
  • social media accounts
  • podcasts
  • YouTube channels

Smoking might make you feel better now, and you may even think that it helps ease symptoms of anxiety or depression. But smoking carries severe risks to your physical and mental health.

Smoking may also worsen — or even cause — anxiety and depression in some people.

It’s never too late to quit smoking. Quitting nicotine can have immediate positive effects on your mental and physical well-being.

There are numerous methods and tools to help people quit smoking, from support groups, chewing gum, and smartphone apps.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression and smoking, it may be a good idea to speak with a doctor or therapist. They can also provide excellent resources for quitting smoking.

Like all substance use disorders, it may take time and effort to quit for good. You may have to try multiple strategies before finding a plan that works best for you. But you are not alone, and long-term success is possible.

For help quitting smoking, you can visit the American Lung Association‘s resource page.

You can visit Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health support when you’re ready to get help.