Smokers may rely on nicotine to destress. Nicotine is a mood-altering drug in tobacco that can have calming effects. However, smoking can increase long-term stress and anxiety.

Nicotine is a stimulant drug that reaches the brain in 10 seconds. When it gets there, it triggers a release of adrenaline, which can feel good. However, nicotine is addictive. As the ingredient in cigarettes that keeps people smoking, its temporary calming effects come with a whole host of toxic risks.

This article will explain whether nicotine actually calms a person down, alongside other effects on the body. It will also detail other remedies for calming anxiety.

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Nicotine does not technically calm the brain. As a stimulant, nicotine excites, rather than relaxes, the brain by releasing adrenaline.

However, during stressful or anxious times, this can feel like a buzz of energy. While this may feel calming or pleasing at the moment, the effects wear off quickly, meaning that a person may feel the urge to consume more nicotine and maintain the good feelings.

People with a nicotine addiction who break the cycle may experience withdrawal symptoms, including:

Nicotine might feel like it is calming a person down, but it may just be delaying these withdrawal symptoms.

Learn more about nicotine.

Nicotine triggers a release of adrenaline by reaching the adrenal glands located just above the kidneys. In turn, this increases a person’s heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure.

Nicotine talks to the reward centers of the brain that regulate how people reinforce and feel pleasure. It also triggers the release of dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain that makes people feel good.

As a result, nicotine is highly addictive. As the body gets used to it, it has less of an effect. This reduces dopamine between nicotine doses, triggering cravings. The urge to smoke more cigarettes can accompany nicotine cravings. Tobacco contains thousands of toxic chemicals that link to diseases of almost all organs, including:

Around 16 million people in the United States live with a smoking-related illness.

Learn more about nicotine dependence.

Anxiety is an important emotion that is part of a person’s daily response to life. However, if anxiety becomes overwhelming or interferes with a person’s ability to sleep or function at home, work, or school, they may have an anxiety disorder. Around 19% of adults in the U.S. live with an anxiety disorder.

People can take daily measures to address anxiety and prevent it from becoming uncontrollable. However, this may involve using unhealthy habits, such as smoking, as coping mechanisms. According to a 2023 study, there is a link between anxiety and depression and more people taking up smoking and smoking more often.

It is important to find alternatives that reduce anxiety without harming a person’s physical health. These might include:

If taking daily measures to manage anxiety does not reduce its impact on daily life, talking with a physician or mental health professional may help.

A professional might be able to prescribe medications that help reduce the body’s response to anxiety or provide different types of therapy that support a person’s ability to approach stressful situations differently. These include talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Learn more about remedies for anxiety.

There is a close link between anxiety, stress, and smoking. According to a 2016 study, around 22% of smokers have anxiety disorders compared to about 11% of nonsmokers. A 2017 study of 217,561 people found that people smoking more than 30 cigarettes a day were significantly more likely to rate themselves higher on a scale of perceived stress.

Many chronic conditions linked to smoking, such as cancer, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, can reduce daily function and contribute to depression or anxiety.

Learn more about how quitting can affect psychological health.

Trying to quit smoking can be tough. A 2019 study found that people who made unsuccessful attempts to quit showed higher stress levels. However, an earlier study found that quitting smoking might improve mood and reduce anxiety.

People looking to quit are not alone. Many free, accessible resources are available to support people on their smoking cessation journey. These include:

  • individual or group smoking cessation counseling
  • free phone coaching on 1-800-QUIT-NOW
  • free website services, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Quit Smoking pages and
  • free text smoking cessation support programs, including SmokefreeTXT
  • quitting apps, such as quitSTART

Learn more about quitting smoking.

Some people feel like using nicotine calms them down. However, the body’s reactions actually speed up after nicotine use due to adrenaline. The “calming sensation” may just be nicotine withdrawal symptoms reducing as a person receives more nicotine. However, those urges will quickly return.

It is better for the brain and body to use healthy anxiety-reducing measures, such as mindfulness and exercise, to calm down during stressful times. Nicotine is at its most calming when a person does not use it at all. Plenty of support is available to help individuals quit smoking, and professionals can help with anxiety if it becomes overwhelming.