Smoking creates serious health issues for the brain, studies show that nicotine intensifies some cognitive functions, such as finger tapping, focused and sustained attention, fine motor speed, flexibility, memory, and sleep quality and recognition memory. However, in some studies, it has been found that long-term cigarette smoking has an impact on memory and concentration.
A cigarette smoker who has smoked for a prolonged period is 2 to 3 times more likely to have a severe disease such as cancers, lung, cardiovascular problems than complications in pregnancy, low sperm count in men, oral problems, and increased likelihood of cataracts than non-smokers and various other complications.
Although some studies say that the nicotine present in cigarettes improves concentration and attention, in cigarettes there are more things available, not just nicotine. Cigarettes contain over 4,000 chemicals out of which 50 of which are too toxic such as carbon monoxide also found in car exhaust fumes, butane found in lighter fluid, and arsenic, ammonia, and methanol found in rocket fuel.
And it is found that these toxic chemicals damage the brain, and lead to deficits in learning ability, concentration, and memory recognition. Long-term smoking limits the brain working, prospective memory which is used for everyday tasks recognition like keeping an appointment or taking medication on time, and executive function.
Stopping smoking improves health and leads to improvements in brain functioning and on your overall health. After stopping smoking, the thickness of the brain’s cortex increases, which is the outer layer of the brain that plays a vital role in information processing and memory. Traditional methods of quitting smoking such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), nicotine chewing gum, patches, inhalers, and nasal sprays. These may help you to quit smoking and improve your health. It takes around 8 to 12 weeks to show its effects.
When a person smokes, first nicotine reaches the brain within about ten seconds and shows its effects by improving mood and concentration, decreasing anger and stress, relaxing muscles, and reducing appetite. When nicotine is taken regularly then it leads to changes in the brain functioning and when nicotine consumption is decreased then later it shows withdrawal symptoms. Smoking occasionally reduces these withdrawal symptoms gradually and can therefore help to quit the habit.
What Does Smoking Do To Your Brain?
Nicotine is consumed while smoking which works like the various neurotransmitters that are already there in our brain. Nicotine activates dopamine signals that enhance pleasant sensations in your brain. And when it is consumed for prolonged periods, the brain suppresses acetylcholine receptors to respond to the increased signaling activity. As a result, nicotine tolerance is adopted in the brain and therefore the brain asks for more and more nicotine.
As nicotine imitates the work of dopamine that provides the feel-good factor, your brain starts asking for nicotine to feel good. Hence Nicotine present in cigarettes changes your brain and makes you suffer from withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit smoking. You will start getting irritable feelings, and anxious feelings and your body start getting a strong hunger for nicotine.
Loss of Brain Volume
The average brain volume in adult males is 1260 cubic cm and 1130 cubic cm in adult females. Brain size and volume are associated with higher intelligence and better cognitive functioning. According to a study, the longer you smoke, the more your brain loses volume with necessary tissues and brain cells. It affects the subcortical region of the brain which is associated with pleasure, hormone production, emotion, and memory.
Dementia Due to Smoking
Since smoking affects the subcortical regions of the brain that are linked with memory, it puts smokers at a higher risk of dementia. Dementia is a syndrome in which decline in thinking, memory, behavior, and the ability to perform everyday activities. It is more common in older people, but it is not a normal phenomenon of aging. In studies, it is found that 30 percent of people have dementia syndrome more likely to occur in smokers at the old age of 30 %. Quitting smoking can only help to decrease the risk of dementia in the person.
Smoking Causes Cognitive Decline
Cognitive decline usually happens as people get older but persons who smoke get these symptoms much earlier. Cognitive decline symptoms such as Delusions, Apathy (losing motivation), Anxiety symptoms, Confusion about visual-spatial tasks, Hallucinations, personality changes, and Depression symptoms. In studies done on 7,000 men and women, it was found that smokers experienced a much more rapid cognitive decline than non-smokers.
Smoking Increases the Risk of Stroke
Tobacco contains about 7,000 harmful chemicals and substances such as formaldehyde, cyanide, arsenic, carbon monoxide, and many more. And when these toxic chemicals get transferred from the lungs to the blood they stick to make platelets more to each other. Whereas platelets help in clotting the blood in case of blood loss, in case of platelets stick together, it increases the risk of clotting blood. Smoking increases the risk of developing atherosclerosis where arteries become hardened and narrow. It restricts smooth blood flow making the formation of blood clots more likely. If a clot forms in an artery or veins connected to the brain, it can block the blood supply to a part of the brain which causes a stroke.
Increased Risk of Brain Cancer
Smoking increases the risk of brain cancer, there are many known cancer-causing substances in cigarettes such as;
- Tar: This sticky brown substance forms when tobacco cools and condenses. It causes cancer.
- Nicotine: It is a poisonous alkaloid derivative of tobacco.
- Arsenic: arsenic-containing pesticides are used during tobacco farming, and traces of them are found in cigarette smoke. Arsenic is commonly found in rat poison too.
- Acetone: This is used as a solvent in nail polish remover among other things.
- Methylamine: Usually found in tanning lotions too.
- Polonium: It is a radioactive element.
- Carbon monoxide: This poisonous gas is released as a result of burning tobacco. It enters the bloodstream and affects the normal functioning of the brain and body.
- Ammonia: It is used by certain manufacturers to boost the impact of nicotine in cigarettes. It is extremely toxic.
- Toluene: A Highly toxic chemical that is also used in making rubbers, inks, dyes, and explosives.
- Methanol: Also used in the aviation industry.
Smoking and Addiction
The nicotine makes the brain connect feelings and gives pleasure to smokers. Quitting smoking shows withdrawal symptoms therefore it becomes tough after some time and with the period it becomes addictive.
Smoking and Stress, anxiety, and depression
Stress is very common and can cause symptoms like headaches, irritability, and anxiety. Smoking gives you calming effects which suppress these symptoms and when the effect of nicotine is decreased then these symptoms increase again. And the symptoms start worsening when a smoker does not smoke for a long time or consumes nicotine.
Nicotine mimics the work of dopamine, prompting the brain to switch off its mechanism that makes and secretes dopamine. In the long term, the supply of dopamine decreases in the brain and inspires people to smoke more. There is a complex relationship between depression and smoking. Smokers with depression have more trouble quitting as withdrawal symptoms become more severe in them.
In any circumstances, smoking is not good for health. If the above information on how smoking affects memory and concentration has worried you, and if you smoke then you must quit smoking. You may have an addiction and get withdrawal symptoms but since smoking is dangerous you must have a dedicated mind to quit smoking. You can find the different method which helps you to quit smoking such as;
- Talk to a medical doctor; your doctor can tell you in detail about the overall negative health impacts of smoking apart from how smoking affects the brain. Your doctor is also able to help you address cravings and also for additional mental health support you need.
- Counseling in a group; an expert or specialist like a therapist can help you cope and plan the process of quitting effectively. Addiction to smoking can be countered with counseling in a group or individual setting for quitting.
- Nicotine Replacement Therapy; is a therapy that helps to get your body off harmful sources of nicotine such as smoking tobacco, chewing paan, etc, and replace them with another sources such as chewing nicotine gum or using nicotine patches. And there usually are no negative health effects from these replacements.
- Relaxation and exercise; can also be very useful methods when you are dedicated to quitting smoking. Breathing exercises and meditation will help you cope with the stress which is withdrawal symptoms. Exercise can help you be engaged, motivated, energized, and happier by supplying more oxygen inside your body through good blood circulation which makes it easier to stay away from smoking. Other than this proper sleep, a healthy diet, fulfilling social relationships, and an engaging hobby can also help in quitting smoking.