The nicotine/depression connection

6a0105369e3ea1970b0147e0ab2f9c970b 320wi - The nicotine/depression connection Have you heard friends or family members who smoke say they do it to calm their nerves or lift their mood when they are depressed? Or maybe you’ve even told yourself and others this is why you keep smoking.  It’s generally understood:  smoking calms your nerves.

But a new research report found that this may exactly the wrong reason to keep smoking – the results show that when people quit smoking they were happier and less anxious. Even more interesting, when they resumed smoking, depression and anxiety set in even deeper than before. 

The research was published online November 24 in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research sponsored by Brown’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital, Keck School of Medicine at USC and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Kahler and his colleagues studied a group of 236 men and women who were also heavy social drinkers. They were given nicotine patches and provided counseling to help them quit smoking and were given advice on reducing their drinking. All of the participants agreed on a quit date. Prior to the quit date they were given an assessment for depression then again at weeks two, eight, 16 and 28.

The results, 99 never completely abstained, 44 were only able to do so for two weeks; 33 made it to the two and eight week marks; and 33 managed to remain smoke free for the entire 28 weeks.

The good news is that those that were able to quit just for a few weeks of the study had brighter moods while they were smoke free. Once they started smoking again, the dark mood came back and even increased in intensity. Those who never quit remained unhappy and those who stayed abstinent throughout the entire study period were the happiest at the two week mark and remained happy up until week 28. Subjects who never quit remained the unhappiest of all throughout the study.

This shows a correlation between being smoke free and happy. It seems clear that succeeding at quitting would make anyone feel happy and even proud, but the results of this study give us a clearer picture of the relationship of happiness to quitting cigarettes. Would these results be the same for the majority of smokers? Dr. Christopher Kahler, research professor of community health at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University believes so. Even in this study where the participants were also heavy social drinkers, the increase in happiness was not impacted by a reduction in drinking but with the abstention from smoking.

Kahler and colleagues research is a recommendation for smokers that quitting is one of many steps towards physical and mental well being. It looks like with the right amount and kind of support it’s possible to be happier as a non-smoker than smoker. The argument that smoking “eases my depression” is a little weaker.

Quitting can be part of the choice that one makes to improve their life. It can be a hard journey but keep trying your happiness depends on it.

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