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Why people with schizophrenia smoke so often?

Many people may not know it, but smoking between schizophrenia is extremely common. In fact, it is so common for people suffering from this disorder to smoke that this phenomenon caught attention of the scientists. A new study from Victoria University of Wellington argues that it is possible to explain high rates of smoking among people with schizophrenia – they are simply trying to alleviate symptoms of the disorder.

For people with schizophrenia smoking is a form of self-medicating. Image credit: Senseiich  via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

For people with schizophrenia smoking is a form of self-medicating. Image credit: Senseiich via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

The rate of smoking in general population is somewhere around 20-23 %. In some countries it is much more common to smoke, but levels are never as high as between people suffering from mental disorders. Between them 50 % are smokers. Even more shockingly, as much as 90 % of individuals with schizophrenia smoke regularly. This rate is so huge that scientists got interested, what exactly drives this habit between schizophrenia patients.

One scientists for her PhD completed this research. She took a look at nicotine addictive, in order to see if the same effects reduce symptoms of schizophrenia. Besides that, she compared neurobiological pathways in both addiction and schizophrenia searching for commonalities. Uta Waterhouse, author of the study, explained the results: “My findings did not support the theory that both schizophrenia and nicotine addiction share common neurobiological pathways, but it clearly showed that nicotine has a positive effect on the problematic changes to brain function that come with schizophrenia”.

In other words, for people with schizophrenia smoking is a form of self-medicating. There is no effective medicine to reduce the cognitive deficits, which is a huge gap in the schizophrenia treatment. Of course, smoking does not fill this gap, but it helps partially reducing these symptoms and makes patients feel a little better. Author of the study says that pharmaceutical companies should look into this problem and possible new treatments. Also, policy makers in New Zealand should try changing legislation regarding smoking in hospitals – for schizophrenia patients it may be extremely stressful to stay without this remedy for longer periods of time.

There is no doubt that smoking is bad for health. However, for people with schizophrenia it takes the place of medicine that is not even invented yet. This is why more research is needed on this subject, trying to find some better alternatives.

Source: victoria.ac.nz