How Does Smoking Affect Depression?

Today is World Health Day and this year the World Health Organization (WHO) is focusing on depression, a leading cause of disability worldwide.  Depression can strike anyone at any age, although more women than men are affected.  Many people are not always diagnosed correctly because their depression may be the result of social, psychological and biological factors interacting together.  There are also claims that smoking can also lead to depression although not everyone who smokes becomes depressed.  Current estimates by the WHO state that more than 300 million people throughout the world suffer from depression while approximately 1 billion people in the world smoke.

Researchers have known that smokers have higher rates of depression versus non-smokers, but they are still learning the cause and effect.  According to researchers in the British Journal of Psychiatry, one reason could be “common risk factors,” while the other could be a “direct causal link.”  The researchers know that “nicotine causes changes to neurotransmitter activity in the brain.”  And smokers themselves talk about the “antidepressant benefits” to improve their mood by “self-administering nicotine” and getting a temporary feeling of pleasure as the levels of dopamine increase as they smoke.  But the relationship of nicotine in depression is more complex because, while the smoking seems to improve their mood, it also increases the negative emotion.  Over time the smoker’s high from nicotine no longer works.

Some smokers believe their smoking relaxes them or helps them deal with the stress of life when in fact they are treating the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.  Using nicotine during stressful times is causing the smoker to lose their “mental skill” to cope with stress and increasing their reliance on tobacco.  Decreased lung function, breathing issues, and coughing from smoking can cause some smokers to also experience anxiety which may lead to hyperventilation, “a common trigger for panic attacks.”  Continuing smoking only increases the symptoms causing the anxiety and could lead to a panic disorder.  Both stress and anxiety can lead to depression and smoking is making it worse.

A study also looked at e-cigarette use and a possible link to depression to see if the findings would be the same as with depression and elevated use of traditional cigarettes.  While depressed students may turn to e-cigarettes initially for self-medication like cigarettes, the devices “did not appear to lead to elevated depression levels.”  However, the researchers suggested that the students could be using the devices to quit smoking cigarettes.   Whatever the reason for the students turning to e-cigarettes, since the devices “deliver less nicotine per puff than cigarettes,” the findings were not what the researchers anticipated.

Smoking and depression symptoms appear to go hand-in-hand.  The temporary pleasure smokers derive from the nicotine can quickly make them more dependent on their smoking and making quitting more difficult.  Treating the symptoms of depression may also mean treating the nicotine dependence as well.

Links to articles used in this blog:
Can Smoking Cause Depression?
e-Cigarette Use in College Linked to Depression
Understanding Nicotine and Depression
Smokers Are More Likely To Suffer From Anxiety and Depression




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