Smoking and Depression Are Closely Linked: Study
Thu, October 21, 2021

Smoking and Depression Are Closely Linked: Study

If you have been diagnosed with depression, there’s a good chance you smoke too. Previous studies have revealed that smoking and depression often go hand in hand / Photo by: Katarzyna Białasiewicz via 123RF

 

If you have been diagnosed with depression, there’s a good chance you smoke too. Previous studies have revealed that smoking and depression often go hand in hand. People with depression are not only more likely to smoke but also find it harder to quit smoking compared to those with stable mental health. While the link between smoking cigarettes and depression has long been recognized, it is still not clear how the two are related. 

This also leads some researchers to question whether or not people smoking cigarettes are suffering from depression. The Office for National Statistics, the UK's largest independent producer of official statistics, combined the data from two surveys, the Annual Population Survey (APS) and Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN), to show the smoking habits of people living in the country. 

It was reported that 14.7% of people aged 18 years and above smoked cigarettes in 2018. This is equivalent to around 7.2 million people in the population, representing a statistically significant decline of more than five percentage points since 2011. Men have a higher smoking rate compared to women with 16.5% and 13%, respectively. Of the constituent countries, 16.3% of adults in Scotland smoked, 15.9% in Wales, 15.5% in Northern Ireland, and 14.4% in England. 

While there are hundreds of smoking statistics that are reported, the exact mechanism by which cigarettes contribute to depression is unknown. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that people with mental illness smoke at 2 to 4 times the rate of the general population. Between 2009 and 2011, 36.1% of smokers suffered from a mental illness. This was higher compared to 21.4% of smokers with no mental illness.

Smokers May Be At Greater Risk of Depression

Many smokers are fully aware of the impact of smoking on their health, yet it’s still hard for them to quit. Previous studies showed that this is because cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. Nicotine can improve mood and concentration, decrease anger and stress, and relax our muscles. However, regular doses of this chemical can change our brains, leading to nicotine withdrawal symptoms when the supply of nicotine decreases. 

Unfortunately, smokers are more likely to develop depression and schizophrenia. A 2019 study conducted by researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK showed compelling evidence that smoking can negatively affect our mental health. According to CNN, an American news-based pay television channel owned by AT&T's WarnerMedia, the team used an approach called Mendelian randomization in studying the data of 462,690 individuals of European ancestry. 

Aside from using the individuals’ genetic data to examine cause-and-effect relationships with smoking, the researchers also identified genetic variations associated with a trait, such as depression or schizophrenia. Then they started testing for those variations against an exposure, like smoking, in a group of subjects. Lead author Robyn Wootton stated that studies often overlooked how to reduce smoking prevalence involving people suffering from a mental illness. "Our work shows that we should be making every effort to prevent smoking initiation and encourage smoking cessation because of the consequences to mental health as well as physical health,” he said. 

The findings of the study published in the journal Psychological Medicine showed that smoking increased the risk of depression and schizophrenia. People suffering from these mental illnesses are also more likely to smoke. The researchers, thus, recommended that psychiatric hospitals should be smoke-free to avoid detrimental effects on mental health.

Many smokers are fully aware of the impact of smoking on their health, yet it’s still hard for them to quit. Previous studies showed that this is because cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive / Photo by: iakovenko via 123RF

 

Does Smoking Cause Depression?

People with depression often rely on smoking as a maladaptive self-care mechanism based on the emotional benefits they feel they are receiving. Smoking just makes them feel better. According to Bridges to Recovery, a licensed residential mental health care program devoted to world-class care, smoking activates the pleasure centers of our brains, temporarily enhancing mood. However, this can lead to an emotional crash as tolerance develops. More and more nicotine is needed to produce the same pleasurable effect, making smoking more addictive.

For people suffering from depression, smoking is their stress reliever or coping mechanism. They need this to calm themselves and temporarily escape from their emotions. However, many experts have questioned whether or not smoking can cause depression. A recent study conducted by researchers from the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Jerusalem, Israel aimed to answer the question. 

According to Medical News Today, a web-based outlet for medical news targeted at both physicians and the general public, the researchers focused on the link between a better health-related quality of life (HRQoL) and smoking. The team assessed the HRQoL of 2,138 students enrolled in the University of Belgrade and the University of Pristina. They gathered their social and economic backgrounds as well as habits and lifestyle such as smoking status, alcohol use, exercise levels, and eating habits.

The researchers assessed the students using the questionnaire they provided them. They also used the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) to assess the students' depressive symptoms. The findings of the study showed that having a higher BDI score was associated with smoking. Also, the students who are smokers are 2 to 3 times more likely to have clinical depression than those who had never smoked. 

“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that smoking and depression are closely linked. I urge universities to advocate for their students' health by creating ‘Smoke-Free Campuses’ that not only ban smoking on campus but tobacco advertising too,” said Prof. Hagai Levine, the senior and corresponding author of the study paper. 

Overall, these studies showed a stronger correlation between smoking and depression. It’s time to address smoking problems and mental health both at the same time.