Statistics from a new study indicate that people who quit smoking may develop depression or begin using other substances instead of tobacco.

People may be more likely to develop depression or abuse substances after quitting smoking. A recent study shows that marijuana and alcohol use increased after people gave up cigarettes. Some participants also showed symptoms of depression.

Nicotine, a chemical found in cigarettes, is an addictive substance. When people have a nicotine addiction and stop using the substance, they typically undergo withdrawal symptoms than can cause anxiety and depression. In addition, people may pick up other habits to distract themselves from the urge to smoke.

Article at a Glance:

  • Nicotine affects the brain’s reward centers and increases dopamine.
  • Symptoms of quitting nicotine include depression, irritability, and problems with attention and sleeping.
  • People who quit smoking are at a heightened risk of depression, binge drinking, and marijuana use.
  • The feelings of depression after quitting smoking usually start on the first day of quitting and may last for up to a month.

Why Is Anxiety and Depression Common After Quitting Smoking?

Nicotine affects the reward centers in a person’s brain and increases dopamine levels. Dopamine reinforces behavior, so people want to continue using nicotine to feel the same rewarding effects. As they continue smoking, the brain begins to rely on nicotine to produce dopamine.

When someone stops smoking, they usually experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms occur because the brain is no longer receiving a chemical that it has become dependent on. Theses symptoms typically include:

  • Irritability
  • Attention problems
  • Sleeping problems
  • Increased appetite and weight gain
  • Tobacco cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Anxiety, depression and poor sleep are all interrelated. Because these conditions affect one another, it can create a vicious cycle where sleep deprivation leads to heightened anxiety and depression symptoms. In addition, high anxiety can cause someone to be unable to sleep, which can cause depression.

Statistics on Depression After Quitting Smoking

The previously mentioned study looked at former smokers, ages 18 or older, tracking changes that occurred from 2002 to 2016. It found that marijuana use, binge drinking and major depression rates all increased. The statistics show:

  • Heightened risk of binge drinking: From 2002 to 2016, past-month binge drinking increased from 17.22% to 22.33%.
  • Heightened risk of marijuana use: From 2002 to 2016, past-month marijuana use increased from 5.35% to 10.09%.
  • Heightened risk of major depression: From 2005 to 2016, cases of major depression increased from 4.88% to 6.04%.

How Long Does Depression After Quitting Smoking Last?

People can begin feeling depressed on the first day of quitting smoking. These feelings only continue for a few weeks and usually resolve within a month. However, people who have a history of depression may experience more severe symptoms of depression. Those who have no history of depression are unlikely to develop major depression.

a man wearing a blue and white striped shirt.
By – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
a man in a black shirt smiling at the camera.
Editor – Rob Alston
Rob Alston has traveled around Australia, Japan, Europe, and America as a writer and editor for industries including personal wellness and recovery. Read more

Cheslack-Postava, Keely; et al. “Increasing Depression and Substance Use Among Former Smokers in the United States, 2002–2016.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, October 2019. Accessed September 27, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products.” September 2019. Accessed September 27, 2019.

National Cancer Institute. “How To Handle Withdrawal Symptoms and Tr[…]ide To Quit Smoking.” October 29, 2010. Accessed September 27, 2019.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Sleep and Mental Health.” March 18, 2019. Accessed September 27, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.