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Quitting Smoking May Boost Mental Health

Update Date: Feb 12, 2014 01:11 PM EST

Quitting smoking can help improve mental health in people with psychiatric illnesses, according to a new study.

While doctors have traditionally ignored patients' smoking habits to treat their psychiatric problems first, new research reveals that quitting smoking may actually improve mental health.

"Clinicians tend to treat the depression, alcohol dependence or drug problem first and allow patients to 'self-medicate' with cigarettes if necessary," lead researcher Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg said in a news release. "The assumption is that psychiatric problems are more challenging to treat and that quitting smoking may interfere with treatment."

However, the latest study linked smoking cessation or reducing half the number of cigarettes smoked daily to a lower risk of mood and addiction disorders.

"We don't know if their mental health improves first and then they are more motivated to quit smoking or if quitting smoking leads to an improvement in mental health," Cavazos-Rehg said. "But either way, our findings show a strong link between quitting and a better psychiatric outlook."

The latest study involved data from 4,800 daily smokers who filled out questionnaires in the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Participants completed surveys about their drinking, smoking and mental health and underwent two interviews conducted three years apart.

The findings revealed that smokers who had addiction or other psychiatric problems at the time of the first survey were significantly less likely to have those same problems three years later if they quit smoking. Furthermore, smokers who never had psychiatric problems at the time of the first survey were less likely to develop those problems later if they had quit.

"We really need to spread the word and encourage doctors and patients to tackle these problems," Cavazos-Rehg said. "When a patient is ready to focus on other mental health issues, it may be an ideal time to address smoking cessation, too."

The findings are published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

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