Schizophrenia And Cigarette Smoking

  • Imagine this:


    You start smoking when you develop schizophrenia at a young age.  You will require higher doses of antipsychotic medication.  Your life expectancy will be 20 percent shorter than for people who do not have this illness.


    Imagine this:


    Two women who are sisters start smoking when they're 15.  Smoking increases the risk of breast cancer.  One sister develops breast cancer and emphysema and needs to sleep and travel with an oxygen tank.  The other sister requires an oxygen tank as well.


    One guy smoked up until he was 67.  A blood clot formed dangerously close to his heart.  He needed a seven-hour operation to remove the blood clot.  The surgeon had to freeze him because of the risk that he would take a stroke while under the knife.

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    The guy needed a second operation a week later.  He couldn't talk so pointed to letters in the alphabet on a wooden board from his perch in the hospital bed.  He used a tracheotomy tube to breathe.  The guy would go on to spend over 30 days in rehab in a nursing home for speech and physical therapy so he could get back up to speed in the real world.


    If this is the outcome for three smokers who do not have schizophrenia: I hope this shocks everyone with schizophrenia into considering quitting smoking and hopefully not starting this habit if you haven't already.


    It's thought people with schizophrenia smoke at a greater rate than the general population because the nicotine is used to self-medicate and improve difficulties with attention, cognition and information processing as well as the extrapyramidal effects of antipsychotic drugs.


    The true shocker:


    Statistics taken from


    "While the prevalence of smoking in the total U.S. population is about 25 to 30 percent, the prevalence among people with schizophrenia is approximately three times as high or almost 90 percent, and approximately 60 percent to 70 percent for people who have bipolar disorder."


    Smoking is a direct cause of cancer and has been hypothesized as one of the key reasons life expectancy for people with schizophrenia is about 20 percent shorter than for people who do not have schizophrenia.


    The British Journal of Medicine has reported that approximately 50 percent of average smokers die prematurely (and likely a much higher percentage of smokers who have schizophrenia because of higher smoking rates).


    Smoking just one to four cigarettes a day almost triples a person's risk of dying of heart disease, according to Norwegian researchers (BBC News).


    A billion people will die from tobacco-related diseases such as cancer this century unless more are encouraged to quit, a UK expert warns (BBC News).


    Smoking is a large financial burden for people who have schizophrenia.


    Long-term Smoking Is Associated With Up To 40 Percent Increased Risk Of Breast Cancer.


    Smoking has also been found to interfere with the response to antipsychotic drugs.


    Several studies have found that schizophrenia patients who smoke need higher doses of antipsychotic medication.


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    Smoking significantly increases risk of emphysema (lung diseases).


    Smoking significantly increases risk of diabetes.


    Smoking (via discarded or forgotten cigarettes) can cause house fires.

    Smoking is an important cause of cancer in other people close to the smoker (via "second hand smoke").


    (Schizophrenia and cigarettes, smoking and nicotine, retrieved on July 23, 2012 from


    So: how can you quit smoking?  It can be hard yet it can be done.


    Join a Nicotine Anonymous group.


    Research the side effects of a smoking cessation drug like Zyban (the form of Wellbutrin approved for halting cigarette smoking).  A woman I know tried to quit cold turkey numerous times and didn't have success until she used Zyban.


    A side effect of Zyban and other drugs in this class could be suicidal thoughts.


    Read the prescription drugs primer on quitting smoking.


    Set a quit date.


    Use the resources.


    Read 25 Ways To Stop Smoking.


    Browse American Lung Association website.


    Find a buddy to do things with that don't involve drinking alcohol or lighting up cigarettes when you're bored.  Take up a hobby.  Act counter to your urge to smoke and do something else you choose from a list of activities.  Call someone on the phone to distract yourself and get support.


    Toss all the spare change and bills you would've used to buy cigarettes into an attractive container and use the money to treat yourself to a cruise or other reward.




    It often takes numerous attempts to quit before a person actually quits smoking for good.  Relapse is par for the course.  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, forgive yourself and try again until you do kick the habit.


Published On: August 14, 2012