Most people with schizophrenia smoke tobacco, says research

9 April 2001

Eighty per cent of people with schizophrenia smoke tobacco, according to research.

‘That figure is concerning—it’s more than 3 times the rate of the rest of the population,’ according to Flinders Medical Centre’s Professor of Clinical Pharmacology, Ann Crocker.

Professor Crocker has been conducting a research project to help people with mental illness to quit smoking.

However, Professor Crocker said that the positive news was that recently introduced intensive quit smoking programmes for people with mental illness had enjoyed good early success.

Research showed that some people with a severe mental illness used tobacco smoking as a coping mechanism, according to the Professor.

‘The feedback is that it helps to temporarily relieve emotional and physical stress and facilitates feelings of well-being. Smoking may also be used to ‘self-medicate’ as nicotine releases dopamine in the brain—thereby reducing some of the negative symptoms of schizophrenia.’

Professor Crocker said nicotine was also known to reduce the severity of some of the ‘movement’ side effects caused by medication.

‘As a result of the high rates, people with mental illness have 30 per cent more heart disease and 30 per cent more respiratory disorders. Tobacco smoking is also a huge financial burden, with many people with mental illness spending a large percentage of their disability support pension on cigarettes, leaving very little for healthy food, accommodation and other essentials.’

The study found that 48 per cent of smokers wanted to quit for the same reasons given by the general community—because of health concerns, a desire to save money, social reasons and to maintain control of their lives.

As a result of the research, a manual has been designed to help people to give up smoking. Eleven programmes involving more than 100 smokers with severe mental illness had recently been held with good results.

‘Early figures show that at least 65 per cent have stopped, at least for a short period, and 12 per cent are managing to stay stopped. These results are very encouraging.

‘In the past, people have really ignored the plight of people with mental illness. They have thought that this group would find it too difficult to stop smoking. But the good news is that they want to give up smoking and can give up smoking,’ Professor Crocker said.

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