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Nicotine Addiction and Schizophrenia

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Schizophrenia related image Photo: Getty Images

As a former music therapist with years of working with adults with mental illness, I remember distinctly the smoking ritual which took up a tremendous portion of each person's day. These adults had a dual diagnosis of schizophrenia and substance abuse, a twinship that seemed to be more common than not. The main substance of choice for all of them, without exception, was nicotine.

It's been found that many people suffering from schizophrenia experience a reduction in the negative symptoms of the disease (hallucinations, delusions) when they are smoking and an increase in these symptoms when they cease smoking. It is inferred, therefore, among some practitioners, that smoking is itself a form of self-medicating which people with schizophrenia naturally gravitate toward.

The problem, of course, is that smoking is just as much of a health hazard for those suffering with mental illness as it is for anyone else in the general population. The increase of asthma, emphysema, lung and mouth cancer, as well as heart disease compounds the mental, emotional and physical struggles that people with schizophrenia are already facing. The medical costs of smoking are tremendous, as well, not to mention the cost of cigarettes themselves.

Many people with mental illness work very hard to budget their money and the cost of smoking takes their health as well as their income from them. With many brands costing upwards of $7.00 per pack, and many people with schizophrenia smoking more than one pack each day, it would most certainly be in their best interest to quit the habit.

The medical community is only now realizing there may be genetic links between smoking and schizophrenia. The receptors that allow someone to enjoy and become addicted to nicotine may be related to those that influence the chemistry of developing schizophrenia. While research is still being conducted, it is clear to see that this population is in fact voracious when it comes to smoking, sometimes smoking, or trying to smoke (if there are imposed limits) anywhere from one to three or even four packs per day of cigarettes.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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