Washington - If you smoke to reduce stress, you are only
adding to your stress, according to a new review of psychological studies in the October
issue of the American Psychological Association's American Psychologist.
Psychologist Andy Parrott, Ph.D., of the University of East London says the evidence shows
that the apparent relaxant effect of smoking only reflects the reversal of the tension and
irritability that develop during nicotine depletion. Far from acting as an aid for mood
control, nicotine dependency seems to increase stress.
Professor Parrott reviewed studies on the smoking/stress
relationship, first in adult smokers, then in novice adolescent smokers and lastly during
smoking cessation. For adult smokers, the research shows that the positive mood changes
experienced during smoking may only reflect the reversal of unpleasant abstinence effects.
"Regular smokers, therefore, experience periods of heightened stress between
cigarettes, and smoking briefly restores their stress levels to normal," said
Professor Parrott. "However, soon they need another cigarette to forestall abstinence
symptoms from developing again. The repeated occurrence of negative moods between
cigarettes means that smokers tend to experience slightly above-average levels of daily
stress. Thus, nicotine dependency seems to be a direct cause of stress."
Turning to smoking initiation and stress during
adolescence, Professor Parrott says the evidence shows that novice smokers report
increasing stress as they develop regular patterns of smoking. A study of Canadian school
children found that regular and heavy smokers reported significantly higher stress than
did non-smokers. In a study of American adolescents, the teenagers were asked about their
smoking behavior and feeling states over the previous two years. The findings indicated
there was an increase in affective distress as the adolescents moved from experimental to
more regular smoking.
And reviewing the evidence surrounding smoking cessation
and stress, Professor Parrott says studies show that quitting smoking reduces stress. In a
review of cross-sectional studies, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that former smokers
were found to be less stressed than current smokers in some studies, whereas in other
studies the two groups did not differ significantly. However, not a single study found
former smokers to be more stressed than current smokers.
So why do smokers feel stressed without nicotine? Professor
Parrott says there seems to be two possible answers. First, smokers may be more neurotic.
A number of studies have found above-average neuroticism scores in adult smokers compared
with non smokers, although some studies have failed to confirm this. The second answer is
that stress may be caused by nicotine dependency. "The regular smoker needs nicotine
to maintain normal moods and suffers from unpleasant feelings of irritability and tension
between cigarettes, when his or her plasma nicotine levels are falling," explains
Professor Parrott. "Smokers also learn that regular smoking prevents abstinence
symptoms from developing. Thus, the link between regular smoke intake and keeping moods
within normal bounds becomes strongly conditioned over time."
Professor Parrott says that the message that tobacco use
does not alleviate stress but actually increases it needs to be far more widely known. He
says this may help many adults to stop smoking, keep former smokers who have recently quit
from relapsing and help more young people withstand the social pressures to try
Article: "Does Cigarette Smoking Cause
Stress?" Andy C. Parrott, Ph.D., University of East London, American Psychologist,
Vol. 54, No. 10.