While the physical health effects of smoking are well known, the psychological effects are rarely discussed. As nicotine addiction is as much psychological in nature as it is physical, this seems shortsighted, especially considering the fact that the psychological addiction is generally much more difficult to overcome.
In large part, the psychological effects of smoking are directly linked to how nicotine physically affects the brain. Early cigarette use can cause improvement in reaction and processing times because nicotine is a psychomotor stimulant. Even though this improved skill does not last long, smokers notice it enough to continue to claim the enhancement from cigarettes.
Smokers also claim that cigarettes are mood enhancing or have a calming effect. There is research that shows smoking may indeed have a calming, rather than stimulating, effect depending on the amount of nicotine in the bloodstream. In fact, it has been shown that smokers alter the way they smoke (for example, longer or shorter puffs) to achieve the desired effect.
It has also been shown that the impression of mood change can be due to short-term nicotine withdrawal. Such withdrawal can be happen any time a smoker goes without cigarettes longer than they are used to, such as when they sleep. Thus, the first cigarette of the day stops the withdrawal symptoms, thereby causing the smoker to feel calmer.
The feelings of euphoria and calm coupled with the perceptions of performance enhancement are at the root of psychological addiction to cigarettes. When a person tries to quit smoking, the physical addiction is usually overcome within fourteen days. However, the psychological desire for cigarettes can last for years, and is especially prevalent in situations where reaching for a cigarette was previously the normal reaction.
This is because smokers often see cigarettes as a cure-all. When under stress, inhalation of nicotine would enable the smoker to feel calm. When tired, cigarettes would act as a stimulant to wake the smoker up. When a smoker was bored, they would light up a cigarette as well. This attitude that smoking fixes everything makes times of mental distress very difficult on the person trying to quit.
In addition, these people are faced with attempting to do things without the ritual of lighting up. Human beings like rituals and order. Our brains are wired in such a manner that we tend to do things in the same way all the time. When a step of that process is removed, people tend to get confused and have difficulty performing the task. When a smoker quits smoking, this problem occurs every time they try to do something where they would have normally lit a cigarette, from getting ready in the morning to winding down at night.
Because of the combined effect of these psychological factors, smokers who try to quit often find that even after they have overcome the physical addiction they still need help. Many people turn to acupuncture, hypnotherapy, or support groups for assistance in dealing with the psychological dependency for cigarettes that could very well plague them for life.