RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—For smokers, that jittery, anxious feeling is a telltale sign that it's time for another cigarette. Smokers often say they can't give up the habit because it helps them chill out, and quitting makes them feel angry, anxious, and sometimes downright mean. And while no one disputes the harmful effects of smoking for any number of reasons, many smokers feel like their mental health is tied to the pack in their pocket.
But British researchers have found that smoking actually creates stress by making smokers feel anxious when their need for nicotine kicks in then giving them a sense of what they think is relaxation, but in reality is withdrawal relief, when they do light up. Their findings, published in the journal Addiction, revealed that heavy smokers who quit and stayed tobacco-free reported lower levels of stress overall than when they were still addicted.
THE DETAILS: The study authors followed a group of heavy smokers who were serious about quitting; their sample was drawn from smokers who had been hospitalized for either heart attacks or heart bypass surgery. Because of their health issues, the smokers in the study had a strong incentive to kick their habit.
At the beginning of the study and again one year later, the study authors surveyed heavy smokers about their stress levels and took saliva samples to measure the actual amount of nicotine in the participants' systems to determine who had stopped smoking and who couldn't kick the habit. They found that people who quit smoking saw a decrease in their stress levels, while the people who continued to smoke were just as stressed at the end of the study as they were at the beginning.
WHAT IT MEANS: The study authors say they want these results to reassure smokers who worry that quitting will make them feel more stressed that, in fact, quite the opposite is likely. After all, they point out, the smokers' stress levels didn't increase, so it's not as if trying to quit caused them greater stress. Their levels remained unchanged, while nonsmokers saw a significant decrease. Because smoking seems to heighten or intensify stress, they add, it's even possible the bad habit could be linked to other psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.
Published on: July 13, 2010