A new study conducted by Michael Chaiton of the University of Toronto and Jennifer O’Loughlin of the University of Montreal reveals a connection between smoking and depression in young adults.
Despite the popular belief that cigarettes improve mood and relieve stress, nicotine actually has the opposite effect. The reason that smoking appears to improve mood is because smokers experience a nicotine withdrawal before having a cigarette.
The study, published in the journal Addictive Behaviours, states that using cigarettes to “self-medicate” has proven to be counterproductive since smoking may cause an increase in depressive symptoms. “Although cigarettes may appear to have self-medicating effects or to improve mood, in the long term we found teens who started to smoke reported higher depressive symptoms,” said Chaiton in an interview with the Toronto Sun.
The study followed 662 students (406 female) from grades 7 to 11. The participants were divided into three groups: those who never smoked, those who smoked to feel better, and those who smoked for the sake of smoking.
The depressive symptoms, which included feeling extremely tired, having trouble sleeping, feeling unhappy or sad, and feeling hopeless about the future, were measured using a scale that the participants filled out themselves.
“When there’s something else that’s stressful in your life, you’re less able to cope with those feelings, so those mood swings become bigger, but are still helped by the cigarettes. Over time, what we see is that it’s not actually helpful and that leads to more stress. We’ve known for a long time that higher nicotine dependence is associated with more depression,” said one of the authors in an interview with the Vancouver Sun.
Nearly half the smokers in the group that was sampled indicated that they smoked as a way of self-medicating to relieve stress and, since many teens smoke in groups, drive away loneliness.
The authors suggest that using cigarettes as a form of self-medication will elevate depressive symptoms in smokers more than in non-smokers, and will ultimately lead to increased depressive symptoms in the long run.
The results found in this study will be used to contribute to the larger, long-running study entitled “Nicotine Dependence in Teens” conducted by the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre.