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Smoking & Anxiety

Tobacco, Nicotine, & Anxiety


Updated May 21, 2014

Portrait of a young man smoking a cigarette
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Despite widespread knowledge about the negative health effects of smoking (and other forms of tobacco and nicotine use), approximately 21 percent of the U.S. population smokes. The rates for people with anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are even higher. Some of the risk factor associated with anxiety and tobacco use include (a) stressful childhood, (b) difficulty tolerating negative emotions, and (c) 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.

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. 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.
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