Study Links High Rates of Smoking Among Mentally Ill People to Addiction Susceptibility [VIDEO]

First Posted: Sep 28, 2013 07:09 AM EDT

A team of researchers at the Indiana University finds a link between high smoking rates among  mentally ill people and addiction susceptibility.

The study, led by the researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine, claims that people with mental illness smoke at a much higher rate compared to the general population but the belief that they are self medicating is false. The study reports that psychiatric disease make a person's brain more susceptible to addiction.

Smoking is one of the leading causes of cancer and other diseases. Statistics by National Alliance of Mental Illness state that 44 percent of the cigarettes in America are smoked by people who have mental illness or other substance abuse disorder. People with mental illness are twice more likely to smoke when compared to other people. Smoking kills nearly 200,000 people with mental illness each year.

The study suggests that the rate of smoking has dropped by 25 percent among the general population but the rate has remained constant in mentally ill people. Smoking among mentally ill people is considered as self medication, this leaves healthcare professionals with one less reason to encourage these patients to quit smoking.

"This is really a devastating problem for people with mental illness because of the broad health consequences of nicotine addiction," said R. Andrew Chambers, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the IU School of Medicine in a statement. "Nicotine addiction is the number one cause of premature illness and death in the United States, and most of that morbidity and mortality is concentrated in people with mental illness."

The study was conducted on an animal model of schizophrenia in which the rodents displayed a neuropsychiatric syndrome that matched the disease to a great extent. The researchers gave both the schizophrenia model rats as well as the normal rats access to nicotine.

The researchers noticed that mentally ill rats took to the nicotine faster than the normal rats and also consumed more nicotine. On cutting the access to nicotine, the rats were seen striving harder to gain access to nicotine than the normal rats (control group).

The researchers also noticed that nicotine offered some short-term cognitive benefits to both group of rats when they were given a memory test. But, when nicotine was withdrawn, both the groups of rats performed poorly on cognitive tasks.

"These results strongly suggest that what has changed in mental illness to cause smoking at such high rates results in a co-morbid addiction to which the mentally ill are highly biologically vulnerable. The evidence suggests that the vulnerability is an involuntary biological result of the way the brain is designed and how it develops after birth, rather than it being about a rational choice to use nicotine as a medicine," Dr. Chambers said.

Through this study the researchers point to the neurodevelopment mechanism that elevates the risk of addiction.

The study is published in the journal Addiction Biology. 


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