Mental Illness

Providing tobacco use prevention and cessation treatment to clients coping with mental health issues can be challenging; however, a foundation of research about how to meet the special needs of this population has been established.

Tobacco Use and Mental Illness

Over the last 50 years, data has shown a steady, significant decrease in the smoking rates of adults in the U.S.. The CDC estimated the smoking rate in the United States to be at a modern-day low of 13.1% for adults in 2019 (1).  However, people living with mental illness are more likely to smoke than the general population.  People living with mental illness:

  • Have a higher rate (31.6%) of smoking than the general population. (1) 

  • Make up roughly 35% of cigarette smokers (2)

  • Are believed to account for 38% of all U.S. adult cigarette consumption ( 2)

  • Tend to smoke more cigarettes per day (3)

What are the consequences of these higher smoking rates? 

  • Tobacco remains the leading cause of death in the United States (4)

  • One study found that most deaths among those with a history of opioid-related disorders were from tobacco or alcohol-related causes and not directly caused by drug use (5)

The table below shows information on the rates of current and past tobacco use in the mental health community, broken down by gender and compared with individuals who use tobacco who do not have any mental health diagnosis.  It also shows the number of cigarettes smoked by individuals with and without mental illness.

This is table shows Cigarette use among adults aged 18 or older, by past year mental illness and demographic characteristics: 2012 to 2014. If you would like someone from our staff to read the numbers on this graph or table image to you, please call 240-276-1250.

* Difference between those with any mental illness and those with no mental illness is statistically significant at the .05 level.

Source: SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUHs), 2012 to 2014.


The table below shows how current or lifetime smoking rates tend to be elevated among individuals with a mental disorder diagnosis than those with no such lifetime diagnosis.

Mental Disorder Diagnosis

Lifetime Diagnosis in U.S. Population (%)

Current Smoking Rates


Lifetime Smoking Rates (%)

No diagnosis




Anxiety disorders




     Social Anxiety Disorder




     Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder








     Generalized Anxiety Disorder




     Panic Disorder




Mood Disorders




     Major Depressive Disorder




     Bipolar Disorder




Psychotic Disorders




     Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders




Source: Schroeder, S. A., & Morris, C. D. (2010). Confronting a neglected epidemic: Tobacco cessation for persons with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems. Annual Review of Public Health31, 97-314.


What can providers do?

Considering the severity of the problem, what can be done to help? Currently, there is considerable research dedicated to reducing tobacco use among those diagnosed with a mental illness. Research shows that there is a significant interest among this population to quit smoking (6). 

The difficulty, however, is that few are provided with the assistance needed to quit. The bulk of the responsibility falls on doctors and other health care providers of this population, as many individuals diagnosed with a mental illness rely on them to help maintain their mental and physical health. Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals do not ask their patients about their smoking habits.

  • Behavioral health specialists rarely assess smoking status (7).

  • During outpatient physician visits, among patients who were identified as current tobacco users, only 20.9% received tobacco cessation counseling and 7.6% received tobacco cessation medication (8)

  • Psychiatric inpatient hospitals have lower rates of smoking bans compared to US general hospitals (9).

Only 4-7% of unaided quit attempts are successful, but this success rate can be significantly enhanced through the use of smoking cessation aids as more providers discuss tobacco use and support for quitting with their clients (10). 


Smoking Cessation Aids for this Population

Nicotine dependence often requires multiple attempts before individuals are able to quit for good.  Combining counseling and nicotine replacement therapy or other FDA approved smoking cessation medications is typically the most effective treatment option for individuals who use nicotine within the mental health population (10).



Counseling for this population has been shown to be effective in various forms including motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy, and in individual or group formats (10, 11).  Peer-based programs have also been helpful to help increase smoking cessation among this population (12).

Two critical steps in this process are assessing use and connecting individuals who want to quit with appropriate services.  This can be done in a short amount of time when used as part of the A3C Model. (13)  For more information please visit our page on Brief Interventions.

  • Ask: Every patient about their smoking at every visit

  • Advise: Provide brief advice to quit

  • Assess: Assess client’s readiness to change smoking behavior

  • Connect: Utilize our fax referral program to connect your patients directly to the MD Quitline! For more information on the quitline click here


Medication, Smoking Cessation, and Mental Illness - Is it safe? 

A combination of cessation treatments are most effective for sustaining lasting change.  Medications, and Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) are effective smoking cessation treatments that patients should be encouraged to use.  For more information on NRT click here

Prescription medications are available if clients are interested in discussing further options for cessation  with their health care providers.  Bupropion (brand names Wellbutrin SR and Zyban) is an antidepressant that exhibits both noradrenergic and dopaminergic activity. Its possible mechanisms of action include blockade of neuronal re-uptake of dopamine and norepinephrine and blockade of nicotinic acetylcholinergic receptors. Varenicline (brand name Chantix), is presumed to work by acting as a partial nicotine receptor agonist and antagonist. Varenicline is not recommended to be combined with NRT.  However, research shows that Varenicline was more effective than NRT for smoking cessation in patients with mental disorders (14). 

There was previously a black box warning on Chantix (varenicline) and Zyban (bupropion). However, this has been removed and with a health care provider’s assistance, is safe for use.  More information on the FDA’s statement regarding this can be found here



It is important to remember that because this population demonstrates a higher dependence on nicotine, they may require more intensive interventions (13,15).  As such, pharmacotherapy and counseling strategies need to be individualized to the patient’s current mental health and substance use status, quit history, and level of dependence (16).  

Tobacco use is a significant health risk to people living with mental illness.  Research has shown that their increased tobacco use in comparison to the general population likely contributes to their increased mortality rates and decline in mental and physical health. Addressing tobacco use among this population thus remains a necessity. 




1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the United States. Retrieved from is external). [accessed 2020 April 17].

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. National Health Interview Survey, 2017. Analysis performed by the American Lung Association Epidemiology and Statistics Unit using SPSS software.

3. D’Mello DA, Bandlamudi GR, Colenda CC. 2001. Nicotine replacement methods on a psychiatric unit. Am. J. Drug Alcohol Abuse 27:525–29

4. Hurt RD, Offord KP, Croghan IT, Gomes-Dahl L, Kotke TE, Morse RM, et al. Mortality following inpatient addictions treatment. Role of tobacco use in a community-based cohort. J Am Med Assoc. 1996; 276(10): 1097-103.

5. Veldhuizen S, Callaghan RC. Cause-specific mortality among people previously hospitalized with opioid-related conditions: A retrospective cohort study. Ann Epi. 2014; 24:620-4.

6. RJ;, S. (2009, May). Assessing Motivation to Quit Smoking in People With Mental Illness: A Review. Retrieved June 18, 2020, from

7.  CD;, S. (2010). Confronting a Neglected Epidemic: Tobacco Cessation for Persons With Mental Illnesses and Substance Abuse Problems. Retrieved June 18, 2020, from

8.  Ahmed, J. (2012, June). Tobacco Use Screening and Counseling During Physician Office Visits Among Adults - National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Health Interview Survey, United States, 2005–2009. Retrieved June 18, 2020, from

9. G, O., & L, S. (2015, October). Smoking Ban Implementation in Psychiatric Inpatient Hospitals: Update and Opportunity for Performance Improvement. Retrieved June 18, 2020, from

10. Fiore MC, Jaen CR, Baker TB, Bailey WC, Benowitz N, et al. 2008. Treating Tobacco Use and Dependency: 2008 Update Practice Guideline. Rockville, MD: US Dep. Health Hum. Serv. Public Health Serv. 179 pp.

11. Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

12.Pauline, F. (2013, November). Home - PMC - NCBI. Retrieved June 18, 2020, from

13. Vidrive et al. (2013). Ask-advise-connect: A new approach to smoking treatment delivery in health care settings. JAMA Internal Medicine, 173, 458-464.

14. Taylor, G., Itani, T., Thomas, K., Rai, D., Jones, T., Windmeijer, F., . . . Taylor, A. (2019, July 10). Prescribing Prevalence, Effectiveness, and Mental Health Safety of Smoking Cessation Medicines in Patients With Mental Disorders. Retrieved June 18, 2020, from

15. Ziedonis, D., Hitsman, B., Beckham, J.C., et al. (2008). Tobacco use and cessation in psychiatric disorders: National institute of mental health report. Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 10(12), 1691-1715.

16. Schroeder, S.A., & Morris, C.D. (2010).  Confronting a neglected epidemic: Tobacco cessation for persons with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems. Annual Review of Public Health, 31, 297-314.