How Smoking Affects Your Mind


  • Mary smokes to relax when she’s feeling tense.
  • Bob smokes to feel more alert when he’s feeling dull.
  • Others smoke when they’re depressed or bored, or to overcome feelings of anger or grief.

How can a mere cigarette be so many things to so many people? The answer lies in the chemicals in cigarettes and the powerful psychological effects they have.

Nicotine—A Stimulant

Nicotine, the chemical that makes addicts out of cigarette smokers, is a stimulant with properties similar to those of cocaine and amphetamine (speed). Nicotine provides the pick-me-up that smokers feel. It increases heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate, and makes the smoker feel more alert. Unfortunately these effects wear off after 20 minutes or so and the smoker is left craving another pick-me-up.

Acetaldehyde and Carbon Monoxide—Sedatives

Acetaldehyde, a byproduct of both cigarette smoke and alcohol, has some sedative properties. The carbon monoxide in cigarettes makes you feel dull the way you would in a stuffy room with not enough air. These chemicals seem to dampen some people’s feelings of tension, anger or strong emotion.

Other Psychological Effects

For many, the act of smoking itself—pausing in one’s work, lighting up, exhaling a certain way—becomes a comforting ritual in itself. The smoker may be involved in a private fantasy that relieves feelings of boredom and meaninglessness. Smoking may go hand in hand with other activities, such as drinking coffee or alcohol or eating dessert. These “triggers” are why quitting smoking involves more than just kicking the nicotine habit.

The Force of Addiction

Sooner or later everyone who smokes does so to relieve the craving for nicotine—a powerfully addictive drug. The addicted body sends messages of uneasiness and need to the conscious mind until the smoker gives in and lights up.

Understanding Is Power

Take a close look at the feelings that make you want a cigarette and those that YOU have after YOU light up. Understanding these feelings will put you in charge when you’re ready to quit smoking.

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