Addiction is the widely-known effect of cigarette smoking to the brain. Nicotine, a relatively harmless yet highly addictive chemical, can cause dopamine levels to spike with every hit. While you can wean off nicotine safely through tools such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), the other chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause long-term issues to your mental wellbeing.
In today’s post, we’ll look at how chemicals in smoke and your brain interact with each other and the negative effects they can cause.
The Link Between Smoking and Your Brain
Aside from the addiction nicotine can cause, other chemicals can cause issues with your overall brain health.
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For instance, research suggests that exposure to high levels of aldehydes can lead to oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain, potentially causing damage to its neuronal cells and disrupting the balance of neurotransmitters (dopamine is one example of this).
Another study suggests that cadmium exposure disrupts essential brain cell processes, induces oxidative stress, and also causes brain inflammation that could lead to brain damage over a period of time.
There are plenty of other examples and studies that chemicals in smoke can alter your brain. So, what are the possible negative effects of smoking on your brain?
How Do Dangerous Chemicals in Smoking Affect Your Brain?
Immediate Effects on Cognitive Function
Short-term effects of cigarette smoke inhalation can cause short-term memory loss in those who frequently smoke. Furthermore, nicotine, while harmless, can have negative effects on your attention span, fine motor functions (like writing longhand or typing), and headaches due to higher-than-usual neurotransmitter activity.
Long-term exposure to cigarette smoke can increase the risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Smoking also narrows your blood vessels, which could disrupt blood flow to the brain and cause brain damage over time.
Long-term Structural Changes in the Brain
Smoking for years or decades will have an impact on your brain’s cellular composition. A study of over 3,000 smokers suggested that long-term smokers had a significant decrease in brain volume than non-smokers, especially as they became older.
The brain area most impacted by the chemicals in cigarette smoke is ‘grey matter,’ which controls our memories, emotions, and movement. The study illustrates this area to have shrunk much faster than a person not exposed to cigarette smoke.
Risk of Neurological Disorders
As mentioned earlier, if you continue to smoke, you are at a higher risk of having Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Accelerated brain ageing can also result in becoming much more impulsive and experiencing more severe cases of depression.
If you’re a smoker diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, you also have faster cortical thinning, which can affect your decision-making skills and can lead to permanent memory loss and an increased risk of severe depressive illnesses.
Neurochemical Imbalance and Addiction
Chemicals in cigarette smoke cause your neurotransmitters to go haywire and imbalance enough to cause addiction.
For instance, instantly consuming high levels of nicotine can hijack your dopamine levels, the ‘feel-good’ chemicals stimulated by every hit of a ciggie. Continuously smoking to get that ‘high’ after each inhalation causes your body to become dependent on nicotine and the adverse effects of other chemicals in cigarette smoke.
While neurochemical imbalance and addiction is not exclusive to smoking and takes a longer time to manifest compared to substance abuse and excessive drinking, it’s still a problem that has long-term mental effects that you’ll have to address later on.
The negative relationship between cigarette smoking and your brain should never be underestimated. In exchange for a short-lived ‘high,’ you’ll endure short-term memory loss and a higher risk of long-term mental illnesses caused by rapid brain ageing due to the chemicals in cigarette smoke.
Still, the best way to keep your body and mind healthy is to stop smoking for good. We recognise the difficulty of permanently stopping smoking, but we can definitely help you.
Smokefree Clinic gives you access to many medically reviewed and trustworthy resources that can inform and aid you in your path to wellness, so have a look around!
If you’re ready to get started, Smokefree can connect you to friendly Australian healthcare professionals who excel in helping patients quit smoking for good.