Unsuccessful Smoking Cessation Attempts Can Lead to Anxiety, Depression

Unsuccessful Smoking Cessation Attempts Can Lead to Anxiety, Depression

Unsuccessful Smoking Cessation Attempts Can Lead to Anxiety, DepressionSmoking cessation is the generally accepted umbrella term for a broad range of techniques that doctors and laypeople can use to combat nicotine addiction and promote the establishment of a cigarette-free lifestyle. In a study set for publication in April 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from two U.S. universities sought to discover if an unsuccessful smoking cessation attempt temporarily increases the chance that a given individual will develop serious symptoms of anxiety or depression, or become involved in some sort of suicidal thinking. 

The Basics

Smoking cessation efforts are beneficial for people attempting to end cigarette use because nicotine addiction produces brain and behavioral changes that can make these individuals keep smoking even when they consciously do not wish to do so. Proven methods developed to assist anti-smoking efforts include nonprescription and prescription nicotine replacement products that gradually reduce the brain’s reliance on nicotine, prescription medications that significantly reduce the pleasurable sensations normally associated with nicotine consumption, short training/educational sessions called brief interventions and therapeutic counseling programs that rely on individualized face-to-face communication, face-to-face communication in a group setting or remote communication over the phone or the Internet. Most people who try to quit smoking fail at least once, and some never succeed in breaking their nicotine addiction. Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that most individuals don’t use organized smoking cessation methods during their successful attempts to end their cigarette use.

Smoking and Mental Health

Apart from any issues associated with smoking cessation, people affected by diagnosable mental health problems are substantially more likely to smoke cigarettes than those not affected by such problems. In fact, the smoking rate among individuals with a mental illness is roughly 75 percent higher than the overall rate in the adult U.S. population. Several factors help explain the link between serious mental health issues and cigarette intake. For example, the pleasure-producing changes that nicotine makes inside the brain can produce alterations in mood that ease the effects of certain mental illnesses. In addition, many of the mental health treatment centers across the country have developed the unfortunate tradition of allowing their patients/clients to smoke, either out of fear that smoking cessation efforts will interfere with program directives or out of a reliance on cigarette access as a reward for patient/client compliance with program guidelines.

Impact of Unsuccessful Quit Attempts

In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, researchers from Florida State University and the University of Houston used an examination of 192 adults to help determine the potential short-term mental health impacts of failing to successfully complete a smoking cessation attempt. These researchers undertook their project for several reasons. First, there has been relatively little prior investigation of this topic. In addition, the small amount of work done in this area indicates that unsuccessful smoking cessation efforts may substantially increase an individual’s levels of anxiety, depression and involvement in suicidal thinking. Finally, current research indicates that people with preexisting mental health issues fail in their attempts to quit smoking more often than their cigarette-using peers unaffected by the symptoms of mental illness.

The researchers compared the short-term mental health impact of successful participation in smoking cessation to the short-term mental health impact of unsuccessful participation. They concluded that, in the 30-day period following the beginning of a quit attempt, people who successfully maintain such an attempt do not experience a rise in their depression levels, anxiety levels or tendencies toward suicidal thinking. They also concluded that people who don’t successfully maintain their anti-smoking efforts during the same span of time do experience a noticeable uptick in the three mental health measurements under consideration. However, the researchers also found that, in an overwhelming number of cases, the mental health-related impact of smoking cessation difficulties does not approach a level of severity that would encourage a doctor to consider making a diagnosis of mental illness.

Significance and Considerations

On the whole, the authors of the study published in Addictive Behaviors found that smoking cessation has, at worst, a minor impact on mental health, whether or not a cessation attempt proves successful. This finding mirrors previous conclusions regarding people already affected by mental illness, which indicate that these individuals typically want to stop smoking and benefit from smoking cessation participation. The study’s authors believe their work supports the usefulness and appropriateness of smoking cessation for a range of populations, including people at-risk for developing a mental illness.

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