Nicotine is considered a stimulant. Some have even turned to smoking in the belief it helps aid weight loss. Researchers are finding an association between smoking and depression. What is that association? Does smoking cause depression?
The reason nicotine is considered a stimulant is that it increases heart-rate and blood pressure. It also stimulates the central nervous system. These effects are felt almost immediately upon smoking as nicotine causes he body to release a small amount of adrenaline. In the short term, this stimulation can make you feel more alert, but any stimulating effects don’t last long.
It is well-known that smoking is addictive and has been linked to causing cancer, lung diseases, heart problems, stroke and even wrinkles. With so many chemicals in cigarettes, it’s hard to know how many health risks smoking can cause. Researchers are looking at mental health risks of smoking. In trying to help people quit, they are looking to see if underlying mood disorders might contribute to smoking.
Several studies have been done to see if there is a link between smoking and depression. Studies in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry and the American Journal of Psychiatry show there is some type of association between smoking and depression.
Nicotine affects the release of neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which affect mood. Smoking also prevents the breakdown these mood regulating neurotransmitters. This shows that nicotine works in a similar fashion as antidepressant medications.
Research has shown that those with a high rate of smoking may have a history of depression or symptoms of depression. It is believed that more than half of all smokers may suffer from some type of mental disorder, including depression.
Quitting smoking often causes lowered mood levels. Add that with the other symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and you can see why many people have a hard time quitting. The use of antidepressants with or without behavioral modification is often a part of smoking cessation programs. This helps many people increase their rate of success.
A question to ask is did heavy smokers have symptoms of depression before beginning to smoke or did they develop these symptoms after using nicotine? Most research studies are simply finding the relationship of smoking and depression and how smoking affects the same neurotransmitters as antidepressants. These researchers are leaning to the idea that smokers already suffered symptoms of depression prior to the use of nicotine.
But what if smokers increased their mood levels with the use of smoking then became adjusted to the higher levels of neurotransmitters and elevated mood? Attempts to quit smoking would then cause symptoms of depression as mood levels dropped back to more normal levels. This would show there wasn’t an underlying depressive disorder prior to smoking but that it was caused by increased levels of neurotransmitters from smoking which were merely leveling out after attempts to quit.
A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed that secondhand smoke caused not only physical health risks but an increased risk for mental disorders. Nearly 15% of those in the study experienced psychiatric distress with many being admitted for psychiatric care during the follow-up period.
This might lead to thinking that cigarette smoke causes depression by lowering mood. But what if the secondhand smoke actually caused a slight increase in neurotransmitters and mood? Continued exposure to secondhand smoke would cause the person to become adjusted to these higher levels. Since effects on mood from smoking and secondhand smoke are only temporary, these people might suffer symptoms of depression as mood levels lowered without exposure.
Further studies should be made based on this information. As it is, researchers are leaning toward an already present underlying mood disorder in those who smoke. Perhaps they should shift direction and start examining if continued exposure to secondhand smoke, even during childhood, could cause a chemical imbalance by temporarily increasing mood levels that could lead to someone smoking in order to keep the levels up.
If they find that exposure to secondhand smoke temporarily increases mood levels and it is the lack of continued exposure that causes symptoms of depression, it might go a long way to find options in smoking prevention programs. Although treatment options may remain the same to help smokers to quit, there could be some benefit to knowing if secondhand cigarette smoke or actual smoking causes depression.
Personal Experience and Theory
Elizabeth Quattrocki, et al.; Biological Aspects of the Link between smoking and depression; Harvard Review of Psychiatry
AH Glassman; Cigarette smoking: implications for psychiatric illness; The American Journal of Psychiatry
Mark Hamer, PhD, et al.; Objectively Assessed Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Mental Health in Adults; Archives of General Psychiatry