From this trend, we can see that stress is one of the main contributing factors to increasing someone’s likelihood of being a smoker. Why is that? Stress causes the release of a hormone called cortisol. There are two kinds of stress, both release cortisol but have different triggers. One form is eustress, which is beneficial in day to day life. Small doses of cortisol boost concentration and productivity and your body will stop producing cortisol once you’ve completed the task that’s causing you stress in the first place. This is the function that helps people focus when they have a tight deadline or need to get something done in a certain timeframe.
The second kind of stress is distress. It’s where there’s no “end trigger” to tell your body to stop producing cortisol so it builds in your system over time. The end result is being in a constant state of agitation and “fight or flight” mode(11). So what’s the correlation between stress and smoking?
Smoking triggers the release of dopamine in the brain(12), the happy molecule that makes you feel calm. When there are a number of stressful factors in your life – including financial strain and mental health issues for example – smoking can become a coping mechanism. However, the more you smoke, the higher your tolerance becomes meaning you need more over time to achieve the same effect(13). Essentially, a smokers brain becomes desensitised to nicotine with more use whilst still craving the same effect. Smoking gives a perceived relaxing effect, even though the withdrawal symptoms then add more stress to their body once the nicotine has been synthesised in their brains.