Thepsychguide is readers supported.When you buy through links on our site we may earn an affiliate commission.

nicotine and depression

Nicotine and Depression – The Intricate Connection Exposed

Writen By: Faiza Saifur
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: September 1, 2023

The relationship between nicotine and depression is complex and can vary from person to person. While some individuals with depression might use nicotine as a way to cope, and nicotine can contribute to mood disorders, it’s not always clear which factor comes first. Both nicotine and depression can influence each other in a bidirectional manner.

A study published in the journal “Addictive Behaviors” reported that individuals who smoke are about twice as likely to develop depression compared to non-smokers. 

This suggests a significant association between nicotine use and the risk of developing depressive symptoms.

Another study has shown a link between nicotine and depression. People with depression are more likely to smoke, and smokers are more likely to develop depressive symptoms. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that individuals with depression are twice as likely to smoke as those without depression. 

Additionally, nicotine dependence has been associated with increased rates of mood disorders. However, it’s important to note that the relationship between depression and nicotine use is complex and can involve various factors.

We’ll look at what science tells us, how nicotine works in our brain, what history shows us, and what this all means for how we think about mental health and nicotine. The goal is to understand more about how nicotine and depression might be connected. 

Nicotine and the Brain: How It Works

Let’s talk about how nicotine affects the brain. Our brain communicates using tiny chemicals called neurotransmitters. Nicotine messes with this communication. It makes brain cells release more neurotransmitters than usual.

Dopamine is a special neurotransmitter linked to feeling good. It’s like a reward signal. When you do something enjoyable, like eating tasty food, your brain releases dopamine, and you feel happy. Nicotine makes the brain release more dopamine, which might explain why smoking or vaping can make you feel good.

Nicotine doesn’t stop at dopamine. It also affects other neurotransmitters, like serotonin and norepinephrine. These chemicals help regulate mood, sleep, and stress. Nicotine might mess with these, which could explain why some people feel changes in their mood when they use nicotine.

What does history say about Nicotine and Mental Health?

Long ago, people discovered tobacco and started using it. They used it in various ways, like smoking and chewing. But what’s interesting is that they noticed it could affect how they felt mentally. This connection between tobacco and our mental state has a long history.

Even in the past, people realized that tobacco could change how they felt. Some noticed that smoking or using tobacco made them feel more relaxed or alert. It’s like they saw that tobacco could mess with their moods. These early observations laid the foundation for exploring how tobacco might impact our mental well-being.

Does Nicotine Cause Depression?

When someone regularly uses nicotine and then suddenly stops, their body can react in various ways. This reaction is known as nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms can be quite noticeable and uncomfortable. They include things like irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, increased appetite, and, importantly, changes in mood. These mood changes can range from feeling more irritable and restless to experiencing periods of sadness and low energy.

There appears to be a strong connection between nicotine withdrawal and mood disturbances. During nicotine withdrawal, individuals often report shifts in their emotional state. Some research suggests that these changes could even resemble the symptoms of depression, such as feeling downhearted, hopeless, and unmotivated. This raises an intriguing question: Could the mood changes triggered by nicotine withdrawal contribute to an increased risk of developing clinical depression?

Numerous studies have taken a closer look at how quitting nicotine might impact mental health. While research indicates that quitting can lead to short-term mood alterations, the long-term relationship between quitting nicotine and clinical depression remains complex. Some individuals might experience temporary dips in mood after quitting, which are often part of the withdrawal process. However, many individuals gradually return to their usual emotional state as their bodies adapt to life without nicotine.

Depression and its symptoms

Depression is a condition where you constantly feel sad and uninterested. It’s often known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression. It affects your emotions, thoughts, and actions, and can result in various emotional and physical issues. Sometimes, it can make it hard to carry out regular tasks, and you might even have moments where life doesn’t seem meaningful.

Depression is more than just feeling down; it’s not a sign of weakness, and you can’t just shake it off. Dealing with depression might involve ongoing treatment. However, it’s important not to lose hope. Many individuals find relief through medication, therapy, or a combination of both.


Depression symptoms can occur frequently, lasting most of the day and often repeating throughout your life. These symptoms might involve:

  • Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless.
  • Getting easily irritated or frustrated.
  • Losing interest or joy in things you used to enjoy.
  • Dealing with sleep problems like insomnia or excessive sleep.
  • Battling fatigue and finding even small tasks exhausting.
  • Changes in appetite and weight.
  • Feeling restless or anxious.
  • Slower thinking, speech, or movement.
  • Struggling with feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and remembering.
  • Thoughts of death, suicide, or self-blame.
  • Unexplained physical issues like headaches or pain.

These symptoms can disrupt daily life, affecting work, school, relationships, and leading to a general sense of unhappiness without a clear cause.

How does nicotine change the brain’s structure?

When someone uses nicotine over a long period of time, it can cause changes in the brain. This happens because the brain tries to adapt to the constant presence of nicotine. These changes affect how brain cells communicate and can lead to different effects on mood and emotions.

Chronic nicotine use might also influence the structure and function of the brain. Some studies suggest that areas of the brain related to mood regulation, such as the reward system and emotional processing regions, could be affected. These alterations might contribute to mood disorders like depression.

Another piece of the puzzle is inflammation and oxidative stress. Chronic nicotine use can lead to inflammation in the body and brain. Inflammation has been linked to mood disorders, including depression. Oxidative stress, which happens when there’s an imbalance between harmful molecules and the body’s defenses, might also play a role in the nicotine-depression connection.

Genetic and environmental Links to Nicotine and Depression

Our genes play a significant role in how we respond to nicotine and our susceptibility to addiction. Some individuals might have genetic traits that make them more likely to become addicted to nicotine. 

Interestingly, there’s also a genetic component to mood disorders like depression. Exploring the intersection of these genetic factors provides insights into how nicotine and depression are connected.

Beyond genetics, our environment also matters. Stressful life events, childhood experiences, and socio-economic status can impact how we respond to nicotine and our vulnerability to mood disorders. 

People with challenging life circumstances might be more prone to using nicotine as a way to cope, potentially exacerbating mood-related issues.

The interplay between genetics, environment, and nicotine is complex. Genetic factors can make some individuals more susceptible to both nicotine addiction and depression. Environmental influences can amplify these effects. 

For instance, someone with a genetic predisposition to depression might be more affected by the mood-altering properties of nicotine. Conversely, nicotine use itself might interact with genetic factors to influence mood.

Why do people Smoke, and what are its side effects?

People are drawn to nicotine for a variety of reasons, often seeking a sense of relief from stress or a way to cope with challenging emotions

Nicotine’s ability to enhance focus and concentration can make it appealing to individuals looking for a cognitive boost. 

Furthermore, social factors and the ritualistic nature of smoking contribute to its allure.

However, the relationship between nicotine and mental health is intricate. 

Research suggests that individuals with mental health conditions, particularly depression and anxiety, are more likely to use nicotine as a form of self-medication. 

The immediate feelings of relaxation and relief can provide a temporary escape from emotional distress. 

Unfortunately, this can lead to a cycle of dependence, where nicotine becomes a crutch to manage mood fluctuations.

Side effects of nicotine:

Beyond its potential benefits, nicotine also has significant downsides. 

  • The most prominent is its addictive nature. The brain’s reward system is impacted by nicotine, creating a reinforcing loop that makes quitting challenging. This is particularly concerning for those with mental health issues, as nicotine dependence can worsen symptoms and hinder recovery.
  • From a psychological perspective, nicotine can also influence cognitive processes. It can both enhance and disrupt attention and memory functions, leading to fluctuations in performance. 
  • Over time, the reliance on nicotine can impact an individual’s self-esteem and self-efficacy, as they grapple with their addiction.
  • In the long term, nicotine use has notable effects on mental well-being. The risk of developing mood disorders increases, and individuals may find themselves trapped in a cycle where nicotine dependence and mental health struggles feed into each other. 

This underscores the importance of comprehensive support for those seeking to quit nicotine, particularly for individuals dealing with mental health challenges.

Ultimately, understanding the complex interplay between nicotine, psychological well-being, and addiction is crucial for both mental health professionals and individuals seeking healthier ways to cope with life’s challenges.

How to quit smoking

We understand that quitting nicotine addiction can be a complex and challenging endeavor, both physically and emotionally. 

  • Firstly, it’s crucial to acknowledge that nicotine dependence often has psychological roots. Understanding the role that nicotine plays in your life is a significant step. Reflect on why you started using nicotine and what purpose it serves for you, whether it’s stress relief, a coping mechanism, or a habit. This self-awareness will help you tailor your approach to quitting.
  • Consider enlisting a support system. Sharing your goal with loved ones or joining a support group can provide you with a network of encouragement and understanding. These connections can play a vital role in maintaining your motivation and accountability.
  • Recognize that nicotine cravings are not just physical but also psychological. Cravings often come in waves and can be triggered by various situations or emotions. Developing coping strategies is essential. Engaging in mindfulness techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, or other relaxation methods can help you manage cravings and redirect your focus.
  • You might also consider exploring therapy options. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be particularly effective in addressing the thought patterns and behaviors associated with nicotine use. A therapist can work with you to identify triggers, develop coping strategies, and challenge the automatic thoughts that may arise during this process.
  • Lastly, be prepared for setbacks. Relapses are a common part of the journey to quit nicotine. Instead of viewing them as failures, see them as opportunities for growth. Learn from each relapse, identify what triggered it, and adjust your strategies accordingly. Remember, quitting is a process, and every effort you make brings you closer to your goal.

Quitting nicotine is not just about breaking a physical habit; it’s about transforming your relationship with yourself and your well-being. Be patient with yourself, celebrate your successes, and stay committed to your mental and physical health. You have the capacity to make this positive change in your life.

Wrapping up!

So to conclude, Peer-reviewed research has identified alarming connections between vaping nicotine and increased symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as higher odds of receiving a depression diagnosis, despite the fact that nicotine has not been proven to cause mental health issues directly.

On the other hand, According to research, depression is often linked to an increased risk of nicotine dependence, as individuals may use nicotine as a way to cope with their depressive symptoms. It’s important to address both conditions together when providing support and treatment. Remember, understanding the intricate relationship between nicotine and depression is essential for comprehensive well-being.