Smoking and Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Tobacco, Nicotine, & Anxiety

Portrait of a young man smoking a cigarette
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If you experience generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), you likely have constant worrying and anxiety. It is a chronic and persistent illness that can have a debilitating impact on your life, including your career, education and personal life.

For many people with GAD, finding anxiety relief is a constant battle. Some with GAD try to self-medicate in order to sooth their nerves and get through their regular routine.

This can include harmful substances like alcohol, drugs or something like smoking. 

This can be a harmful way to manage your anxiety, harming your overall health and putting you at risk for developing lung cancer. 

 Despite widespread knowledge about the negative health effects of smoking and other forms of tobacco and nicotine use, such as lung cancer and chronic pulmonary obstructive disorder, approximately 21 percent of the U.S. population smokes. The rates for people with anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety disorder are even higher. Some of the risk factors associated with anxiety and tobacco use include a stressful childhood, difficulty tolerating negative emotions and impulsiveness. 

Nicotine Only Temporarily Lowers Anxiety

The key thing to know about nicotine and anxiety is that nicotine only produces a temporary relief from anxiety, that also compromises overall physical health.

Many people turn to cigarettes when they are anxious, and the physiological effects of the nicotine can create a calming sensation. However, this usually only works until the substance work through your system, meaning that ongoing anxiety provoking situations will return the person to same level of anxiety as he/she had before the cigarette.

It is a damaging and expensive habit. Particularly for those with GAD, smoking can actually worsen anxiety over time. While smoking might help sooth you in the moment, it can increase your worries about money and health, which can cause you to have severe and constant anxiety over these issues. Over time, it can exacerbate your symptoms and worsen your condition. 

What to Do Instead

There are many treatment options available for anxiety problems like GAD that are not as physically destructive that can also have long lasting effects. For more options read the Anxiety Treatment Guide.

First, you may want to seek out the advice of a medical professional. If you don't know where to start, your primary care physician can refer you to a therapist specializing in anxiety disorders. In therapy, you will go over your anxiety symptoms and triggers and work to identify solutions to these issues. From cognitive behavioral therapy to a dialectical therapy, there are many methods available to help you.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend an anti-anxiety medication to help manage your worry and stress on a daily basis. For some people, medication is only a short-term solution while you go through therapy, but others may be on medication for months or even years. This is a decision you and your doctor will make based on your unique situation. 

Also check out the Substance Use and Anxiety page for information on how other substances like marijuana and alcohol are often used to reduce anxiety.

Source:

Johnson, J, Cohen, P. "Association Between Cigarette Smoking and Anxiety Disorders During Adolescence and Early Adulthood". Journal of the Medical Association, 2000, 2348-2351. 

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