Feel Great

Contrary to popular belief, smoking hurts your mood

by Tory Wolk, blogger

We’ve all seen someone light up a cigarette under stress—maybe you’ve even done it yourself. Smokers may cite stress or anxiety as reasons why they continue to smoke. For whatever reason, smoking is often seen as a way to improve one’s mood.

But if you’re tempted to light up, think again—a new study from the journal “Nicotine & Tobacco Research” provides evidence that this assumption is incorrect. Researchers from Brown University and the University of Southern California studied 236 smokers who wanted to quit. They gave them nicotine patches, counseling, and a date by which they had to quit. The participants took a test of symptoms of depression two weeks before their quit date. Every two weeks the participants checked in and took the same depression test.

At the end of 28 weeks, 99 of the participants never stopped smoking, 44 stopped smoking just for the first two weeks, 33 did not smoke for the first eight weeks of the study and 33 did not smoke for the entire study length.Even those participants who only abstained for two weeks reported better, happier moods when they were not smoking, according to their answers on the depression test. Smokers who never quit were the unhappiest of all the participants. Smokers who quit and stuck with it were the happiest to begin with and stayed the happiest throughout the study.
Christopher Kahler, the study’s author, performed a similar experiment with similar results in 2002. He believes that these findings can be generalized to most people. Kahler defines an effective antidepressant as something that causes depression symptoms to go down, and when it is taken away, the depression returns. He considers the action of quitting smoking to be an antidepressant. When people stop smoking, their mood improves; when they begin smoking again, their mood returns to the same level as before.
Many smokers have continued to smoke because they are worried that quitting will make them unhappy and even cause a depressive episode. But even immediately after smokers quit, their mood already begins to increase. Clearly, the authors of the study believe that in addition to the physical benefits of not smoking, there are mental benefits to be experienced as well.