Quit smoking and feel happier; that’s what two new studies have shown. It adds just one more reason to finally give up the habit, since quitting will already help to reduce heart disease and risk of cancer, as well as save money.
One of the studies, released in the BMJ, on Feb. 13, involved researchers looking through 26 studies that had previously been done on people who decided to give up smoking. Those studies showed that patients had lower stress levels, as well as less anxiety, and suffered less from depression. This led to the patients feeling happier, and enabled them to benefit from a better quality of life compared to those who continued to smoke.
The studies showed that everybody could benefit, not just those who already suffered from mental health problems.
The recent findings contradict everything that has previously been believed about cigarettes. Giving up smoking has previously been considered stressful due to the withdrawal symptoms. Anxiety, depression, irritability and other withdrawal symptoms are thought to decrease when someone lights up. However, when patients quit smoking they usually find that the symptoms go away, after just a few weeks. Continuing to smoke make seem relaxing, at first, but it has a longer term effect.
According to Dr. Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, lead investigator on the second study published in Psychological Medicine on Feb. 12, too many clinicians allow people to “self-medicate with cigarettes,” while dealing with a mental health problem, drug abuse or alcohol dependency. The aim is to treat the psychiatric problems, first, because they are challenging. Trying to get a patient to give up smoking during the treatment can interfere with it. This recent study shows that that is not actually the case. Getting someone to quit smoking can actually help with handling depression and substance abuse.
A patient doesn’t have to quit altogether. Just cutting down on the number of cigarettes smoked each day can help boost the mood.
However, there is one factor that the researchers of the first study stressed; in all the studies researched, the participants wanted to give up smoking. They were actively trying for other reasons, and not to improve their mood. The studies also considered the feelings just before, and six weeks after, giving up cigarettes, and where participants smoked 20 a day. It is currently impossible to link quitting smoking to improvements in the mental health.
Researchers in the second study have also failed to prove that actually giving up smoking helps to boost the mood and improve mental health. It could be that improvements in mental health lead to patients deciding that they want to quit smoking. Cavazos-Rehg did state that the outcome still shows that there is a link.
Cavazos-Rehg used the data from the National Epidemiological Study of Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), in the first two waves, to assess the link between mental health and smoking cessation. It involved data from a group of 4853 patients, with a follow-up three years later. Despite the withdrawal symptoms, patients who quit smoking reported fewer adverse symptoms, including depression, anxiety, hypomania and other mental health disorders and, as a result, felt happier.
By Alexandria Ingham