After a long study session in the library, it might seem like a good time for a nicotine fix. Smokers often associate the nicotine in cigarettes with stress relief.
However, this isn’t the case.
Smokers are 70 percent more likely to have feelings of anxiety and depression, according to a recent study by the University College London and the British Heart Foundation. The study found that ex-smokers have similar anxiety and depression levels as individuals who have never smoked. This shows that the cigarettes may actually be the cause of anxiety and depression. A common perception is that cigarettes relieve stress and anxiety but smoking actually causes a similar sensation that one experiences with anxiety.
Smoking causes the blood vessels in the brain to constrict, forcing the body to work two times harder to pump blood to the heart. An irregular heartbeat develops and the higher stress levels on the body give a similar feeling to that of an anxiety attack.
What a person actually experiences when they smoke are early signs of withdrawal, according to Mike Knapton of the British Heart Foundation. The symptoms of stress are similar to symptoms of withdrawal, which the cigarette does relieve. This cycle continues and the habit becomes an addiction.
“Smoking is an associative habit that becomes an addiction,” said Carol Scavone, M.S. “A smoker starts to associate smoking with a certain activity and it becomes a habit.”
It is common that people who smoke will have a cigarette at certain times in the day like with their morning cup of coffee or on the commute to work. These times then become designated for having a cigarette and make quitting difficult.
“I smoke two cigarettes on my drive to work because I feel like it wakes me up,” said PSUC student Emmanuel Arrieta. “Now I have to smoke on the drive to and from work and also during breaks once I’m there to relieve stress.”
Associating smoking with an everyday routine makes it an everyday occurrence. Therefore the need to smoke becomes stronger, becoming an addiction.
Substance addiction occurs because the drug, in this case nicotine, reaches the parts of the brain that produce dopamine, which causes euphoria. After long-term nicotine use, the drug starts to have an adverse effect and no longer produces such a feeling. Smokers then need to increase their nicotine intake to feel a similar effect, Scavone said.
Smoking is often linked with depression as well because smokers associate negative thoughts with the relief they feel from cigarettes. However, smoking just takes their mind off their problems, and those negative feelings do not go away — they get pushed aside and resurface later Scavone said.
Dialectal Behavior Therapy is often used to treat individuals with substance abuse problems like smoking cigarettes.
DBT incorporates concepts designed to reduce the length and adverse effects of relapses, according to an article published in Addiction Science and Clinical Practice.
Practices similar to that of meditation are used to take a patients mind off of negative thoughts and their addictive tendencies, Scavone said. Like in meditation, a patient is asked to match their breathing to a certain numerical count, which makes it more difficult to focus on negative thoughts and feelings.
In order to reduce stress, mental health experts advise smokers to adopt healthier behaviors that induce the same effects.
“Working out is a really good way to get provoke dopamine spikes,” said Scavone. “Or adopting a hobby or even meditating or doing yoga.”
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