throwing cigarettes in the trash

How Does Nicotine Affect Your Bipolar Disorder?

Hey there! If you’re someone living with bipolar disorder, you’ve probably been told that smoking cigarettes is a bad idea. You may have heard that nicotine can make your symptoms worse, but don’t really understand why that’s the case. I’m here to give you the complete lowdown on how nicotine impacts bipolar disorder, along with some tips to help you quit or cut back.

I’ll go into more detail on all of these key points throughout this guide. My goal is to educate you on exactly how smoking impacts your bipolar disorder, plus provide actionable tips to ditch the cigarettes for good. Your mental health is too important to ignore!

Key Takeaways

  • Nicotine affects dopamine levels in the brain, which is tied to mood regulation. Lower dopamine is linked to depressive episodes in bipolar disorder.
  • Smoking may increase the severity of your mood swings and raise your risk of full-blown manic episodes.
  • Quitting smoking cold turkey could worsen your depressive symptoms due to withdrawal. It’s vital to have a plan in place for quitting.
  • Smoking can heighten anxiety and stress levels for those with bipolar disorder.
  • There are many options to aid you in quitting smoking, like nicotine patches, therapy, and medication. Don’t try to tough it out alone!

Smoking Lowers Crucial Dopamine Levels

box of cigs on a table

Let’s start with the basics on how nicotine affects the brain. One of its main impacts is on dopamine levels. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in regulating your moods. When dopamine levels drop too low, it can lead to depression and other issues.

Unfortunately, studies show that nicotine in cigarettes reduces dopamine levels over time. For those living with bipolar disorder, having depleted dopamine is strongly associated with depressive episodes. It’s likely a big factor in why many smokers with bipolar lean towards the depressed end of the spectrum.

Maria, a 32 year old with bipolar II disorder, found that her depressive phases became much more frequent and longer-lasting after she began smoking a pack per day in college. “I just felt empty and joyless all the time,” she says. “My manic periods got shorter and less intense too.”

After learning about nicotine’s impacts on dopamine, Maria’s doctor helped her start a quit plan using nicotine gum. Within 2 months of stopping smoking, her moods began to stabilize and she noticed an uptick in energy. “I still have bad days, but they’re fewer now. Quitting was the best thing I could’ve done for managing my bipolar disorder.”

The takeaway is that feeding your nicotine habit can starve your brain of the dopamine it desperately needs to maintain more balanced moods. So if depression is your main struggle with bipolar, skipping cigarettes could turn that around!

Smoking Increases Risk of Manic Episodes

Manic episodes involve feeling revved up, energized, impulsive and even reckless. They represent the “up” phase in bipolar disorder.

For those prone to mania, smoking cigarettes could make episodes worse and more frequent. How can puffing on cancer sticks lead to manicbehavior? Let’s break it down:

  • Nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine. For bipolar brains already tilted towards mania, added dopamine can over-stimulate the reward system and worsen manic symptoms.
  • Smoking stresses the body, raising cortisol levels. High cortisol also exacerbates mania in those with bipolar disorder.
  • Quitting smoking cold turkey can cause withdrawal, leading to mood swings, anxiety, and irritability. This can trigger a manic phase.

James, age 29, notices that he tends to experience more manic episodes in the months when he smokes over a pack per day compared to when he cuts back on cigarettes.

“When I’m manic, I chain smoke like crazy because I have all this nervous energy. But I also see that after binging on cigs, I get even more impulsive and wired. My thoughts race out of control. It’s a vicious cycle!” says James.

After a severe manic episode landed James in the hospital, his doctor provided education on nicotine’s effects. He now strives to keep his smoking to 2 cigarettes per day max in order to keep mania at bay. This takes constant diligence, but James reports it’s well worth it.

The point here is that nicotine can exacerbate manic symptoms for those prone to it. Limiting smoking is key, but quitting completely is ideal if mania is your main struggle.

Anxiety and Stress Levels Increase

Anxiety often goes hand in hand with bipolar disorder. The stimulating nature of nicotine can heighten nervousness, apprehension, and feeling “on edge.”

Additionally, smoking is tied to increased cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.” Quitting cold turkey can also lead to anxiety until the body adjusts to being nicotine-free.

Kathy, age 44, became a smoker at 19 and has struggled with bipolar I disorder for most of her adult life. “I clearly see the link between smoking and increased anxiety for me,” she explains. “Within an hour of having a cigarette, my mind starts racing and I feel super jittery.”

“I used to think smoking calmed me down, but it really just elevated my stress levels. I was so used to being a smoker that I didn’t realize how much it impacted my moods until I educated myself.”

Kathy adds that when she’s tried quitting smoking in the past without support, her anxiety skyrocketed from withdrawal. “I wasn’t prepared for how antsy and overwhelmed I felt without cigarettes.” This time around, she’s using the patch, gum, therapy, and medication to ease the transition.

As Kathy’s story illustrates, being aware of smoking’s ties to anxiety and following a personalized quit plan is key to success. Make sure to have support systems in place!

Sarah’s Journey With Quitting Smoking

To pull this all together, let’s walk through a fictional but realistic success story for quitting smoking with bipolar disorder.

young lady smiling

Meet Sarah, a 35 year old single mom diagnosed with bipolar II disorder in her early 20s. She started occasionally smoking cigarettes to fit in with coworkers during stressful work events. Sarah found that smoking helped take the edge off in social situations where she felt anxious and depressed.

Over the years, Sarah’s cigarette habit grew. Soon she was smoking nearly a pack a day. Initially, cigarettes seemed to boost Sarah’s mood and energy levels. But after years of regular smoking, she found herself feeling more depressed and irritable than ever.

Sarah’s bipolar episodes became more frequent and severe. She experienced long stretches where she felt totally drained and lifeless. At other times, she would feel manic and impulsive for no clear reason.

After a bad depressive crash that left her unable to get out of bed for days, Sarah realized she needed to make a change. She met with her psychiatrist and opened up about her smoking habit.

Sarah’s doctor educated her on the links between smoking and worsening bipolar disorder. Sarah learned how nicotine decreases dopamine levels, increases anxiety/stress hormones, and puts the body under strain.

Together, they came up with a personalized plan to wean Sarah off cigarettes while keeping bipolar symptoms in check. Key steps included:

  • Starting on nicotine patches to avoid intense withdrawal
  • Adding an antidepressant to boost Sarah’s low dopamine
  • Increasing therapy sessions to 1x per week
  • Joining a support group for quitting smoking
  • Removing smoking buddies/triggers from Sarah’s life
  • Picking up new hobbies for distraction (e.g. yoga, crafting)

It wasn’t easy, but with her doctor’s help and the support plan in place, Sarah successfully quit smoking after 2 months. Very gradually, her bipolar disorder became more manageable. Sarah still has occasional episodes, but they are shorter and less extreme now.

Sarah says she finally feels in control of her bipolar disorder thanks to kicking her cigarette addiction. She wants to help other smokers with bipolar see that quitting is possible with the proper medical and emotional support.

The key takeaway from Sarah’s story is to have compassion for yourself but also be proactive. Work closely with your mental health team to create a customized smoking cessation plan. Take it step by step, day by day. It WILL get easier over time!

Tips to Quit Smoking With Bipolar Disorder

If you’re ready to stub out smoking for good, here are some tips to set yourself up for success:

Get educated on your motivations. Make a list of your reasons for quitting – improving bipolar symptoms, saving money, health benefits, feeling proud of yourself, etc. Refer to it whenever you feel tempted to smoke.

Don’t go cold turkey if possible. Using nicotine replacement therapy (patches, gum, lozenges) helps avoid intense withdrawal symptoms. Taper cigarette use slowly.

Ask your doctor about medications. Prescriptions like Chantix and Zyban can reduce cravings. Tweak your bipolar meds if needed.

Try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps reframe negative thought patterns around smoking. It also teaches coping strategies.

Download a quit smoking app. Apps provide ongoing motivation, track progress, and offer support. Try Kickstart, QuitNow!, or Smokefree.

Switch up your routine. Find new activities to replace smoke breaks. Change daily habits and avoid triggers.

Join a support group. Connecting with others quitting smoking can make the process less lonely. Share tips and encouragement.

Celebrate small wins. Recognize each cigarette or day you go without smoking. Build a reward system. Stay positive!

FAQs About Smoking With Bipolar Disorder

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about nicotine use and bipolar disorder:

A: There is no clear evidence that smoking alone causes bipolar disorder in people not already prone to it. But smoking may worsen symptoms and lead to a diagnosis sooner.

A: Potentially. Some limited research shows nicotine may temporarily improve focus, concentration, or feelings of depression. But other studies found no benefits. Overall, the risks outweigh any possible perks.

A: Smoking appears to negatively impact both types. However, since bipolar I involves full manic episodes, nicotine may drive mania more than bipolar II. But more research is needed.

A: Vaping also contains nicotine, so it carries risks like cigarettes. But for some, vaping is useful as an intermediate step to wean off smoking when combined with other support. Talk to your doctor.

A: Certain medications like Chantix and Zyban reduce cigarette cravings. Mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety drugs also help manage withdrawal symptoms. Discuss options with your prescriber.

The bottom line? Work closely with your mental health professionals and use all available tools to successfully kick the smoking habit. Take it one day at a time. Your health and wellbeing are worth it!

I hope this guide gave you a thorough understanding of how smoking interplays with bipolar disorder. The key is to educate yourself on nicotine’s effects so you can make informed choices. Your needs and path to quitting will be unique. But with the right preparation and support, you CAN take control of your bipolar symptoms and live tobacco-free.

Now go grab some nicotine gum, download that quit smoking app, and start imagining your smoke-free future! Wishing you the very best.