If we rely on the reports of medical experts and research scientists we will certainly believe that there is a connection between tobacco use and the general category of anxiety disorders. On study issued under the names of three doctors (Alexandre M. Valenca, Isabella Nascimenton and Antonio E. Nardi) states that smoking was a habit in nearly half of panic disorder patients.

This study connects such panic-attack symptoms as dizziness, chills and irregular heart beat with regular cigarette smoking. It also makes a connection between regular consumption of caffeine (coffee, soft drinks etc.) and episodes of anxiety and inability to sleep. In contrast to the question posed in the title, medical research indicates that cigarette smoking might be one of the factors in developing panic disorder. Researchers list the effects of nicotine, tar and other chemicals in cigarette smoke as contributing to the theory.

Other studies show that patients who experienced symptoms of panic attacks while smoking have also suffered from similar or additional symptoms when they quit smoking. In some cases the feelings of anxiety, general nervousness and being out of control increased when patients quit smoking. Some patients suffered from additional panic-attack symptoms and from nicotine withdrawal at the same time.

The report from the three doctors mentioned earlier states that when individuals who already suffered from panic disorder suddenly stopped smoking the anxiety increased. Many of these patients experienced increased fear in anticipation of a panic attack. In many of these individuals, it was necessary to administer one of the recommended prescription medications in order to reduce the symptoms.

Ten years ago a report in MD Health News warned that smoking doesn’t “calm you down.” In fact, this report states that smokers are “three times more likely than non-smokers to have panic attacks and panic disorders.” One of the doctors commenting in the report stated that, in the last years of the 20th century, medical research began to make new connections between smoking and some types of mental illness.

It’s interesting to note that more than one study offers some encouraging information. Smokers who quit before having a first panic attack reduce the risk significantly, even if family history or other health conditions indicate that they are prime candidates. Most doctors try to simplify the issue by suggesting that smokers should quit immediately, whether or not panic attacks or panic disorder are part of the picture.

People who are not medical experts, who have not studied the research results, may easily get the idea that smoking increases stress. Apparently the various chemicals in cigarette smoke contribute to some panic-attack symptoms. In addition, research shows that one of the ingredients in cigarette smoke – carbon monoxide – may directly induce panic symptoms. This is particularly true in people who are already prone to anxiety and panic episodes.

Yet those same people may learn that when people stop smoking the chance of panic/anxiety episodes also increases, for the simple reason that they have removed a life-long habit from their day. It would seem that for cigarette smokers this is a lose-lose situation.


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Lucas Beaumont
Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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