Addiction can be a particularly significant problem among people with mental health issues and some connections to drug use can be specific to particular disorders. It is no secret in psychiatric facilities that patients with schizophrenia tend to be very heavy cigarette smoker.

Studies and surveys have shown that people suffering from schizophrenia who were receiving treatment in psychiatric hospitals would smoke as many as three or four packs of cigarettes a day if they had an unlimited supply.

While addictions like smoking can be a problem for many different kinds of mental disorders, schizophrenia and cigarettes are very strongly linked issues. The rate of inpatient smoking among schizophrenics is actually three to four times higher than the general population. While cigarettes may not necessarily worsen their symptoms, these serious smoking habits are causing health problems among the mentally ill.

Heavy Smoking and Health Risks for Patients

The tendency to become addicted to cigarette smoking among people being treated for schizophrenia is fairly consistent. One study showed that out of 100 patients 92 percent of the men and 82 percent of the women were heavy smokers.

People suffering from schizophrenia also tend to smoke more cigarettes a day than the average smoker and they often use high tar, unfiltered cigarettes. Because of these high rates of smoking, people with mental illnesses like schizophrenia have 30 percent higher rates of heart disease and respiratory disorders.

With an estimated 80 percent of schizophrenics who smoke, the possibility for developing health problems is something that needs to be addressed. In order to combat the problem it is important to consider the underlying reasons why schizophrenics tend to smoke so heavily so that health advocates can help make changes to increase their well-being.

Cigarettes as Self-Medication

Significant studies in the past have shown that the major cause for schizophrenics' tendency to smoke heavily is a need to self-medicate. They are attempting to improve processing of auditory stimuli and also trying to reduce many of the cognitive symptoms they experience.

Researchers found that there is a direct neurochemical interaction that occurs when schizophrenics self-medicate with cigarette smoking. Interactions between nicotine and dopamine in the brain show that cigarettes are helping to improve cognitive functions related to attention and memory.

People with schizophrenia may be subconsciously smoking cigarettes to help improve their deficits in attention, cognition and information processing or reduce side effects from their anti-psychotic medication. Smoking can also be a factor in the process known as "sensory gating" which lowers response levels to auditory stimuli. Schizophrenics tend to have a greater response to a second stimulus than a normal person but cigarettes seem to have an impact of improving their sensory gating.

While smoking may seem to improve some aspects of functioning in schizophrenics, the consequences far outweigh any potential benefits they experience from self-medicating. Smoking, especially at the unusually heavy level that patients with schizophrenia tend to engage in, can increase mortality rates as well as rates of cardiovascular disease and decrease the effectiveness of treatment.

Studies have actually shown that smoking at high levels can counteract the effects of anti-psychotic medication. Smoking results in faster metabolism of the medication which leads to schizophrenics who smoke to need much higher doses for it to be effective.

A sample of patients showed that the average antipsychotic dosage for smokers was 590 mg in chlorpromazine equivalents but only 375 mg for nonsmokers. Because of the many negative impacts that smoking can have on patients, a number of psychiatric hospitals are moving toward banning smoking their facilities to combat the problem. Although the change will be difficult for patients, it may help improve their treatment and their health.

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