Many teens start smoking as a way to deal with the stress in their lives, but a new study reveals that using tobacco may actually create and magnify their mood swings. By quitting smoking, teens can stop the emotional pattern of coping with cigarettes and begin to free themselves from the grip of depression.
Led by the University of Toronto’s Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, scientists sampled 662 French and English students in grades 7 to 11 from both urban and rural areas. The students were divided into three groups: those who never smoked, those who smoked in order to self-medicate, and those who smoked but not to self-medicate. The study participants filled out questionnaires over a five-year period on their use of smoking. They answered questions about their mood and symptoms of depression, such as sleeping problems, excessive worry, and feelings of hopelessness or nervousness.
It turns out that many teens used the mood-altering properties of nicotine to feel better. Almost half of the smokers in the test group said they smoked to self-medicate from stress. The teens with higher smoking-related self-medication scores had higher rates of depression compared to those students with lower self-medication scores and those who didn’t smoke at all.
What many smokers don’t realize is that even though they may feel better after having a cigarette, that mood boost occurs only because nicotine withdrawal has already set in. It may seem that stress is easier to bear with a cigarette in hand, but smokers are actually less able to cope as a result of using nicotine. For those addicted to tobacco, depression only gets worse over time. Once a smoker can overcome withdrawal, he or she will actually feel better – both physically and emotionally – without cigarettes.
There are many effective tobacco quitting strategies and treatments to ease nicotine withdrawal, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). A physician or nurse can recommend the best course for a smoker who is considering quitting or ready to quit. An important first step is for the smoker to challenge the belief that they need cigarettes to cope with life’s stressors.
Although it’s long been known that smoking is associated with an increase in depression, this study is one of the first to analyze the perceived emotional benefits of smoking among teens.