Smoking & Depression: What Is The Link?
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Depression is one the most common and misunderstood disorders in the world. Depression is a condition in which a person feels discouraged, sad, hopeless, unmotivated, or disinterested in life in general (Anxiety and Depression Association of American, 2014). Many individuals do not know that they are depressed.
Recently, researchers have linked smoking to depression. The average smoker will tell you that they smoke to relieve stress when feeling depressed or to manage weight even though smoking is one the leading causes of early death. Some researchers have concluded that individuals who suffer from depression make up the majority of the population of individuals who smoke.
However, there are more questions and other variables to consider before we conclude that smoking causes depression or depression results in smoking. Some who are diagnosed with depression may not use smoking as a coping mechanism, and some who use smoking as a stress reliever may not be depressed. Smoking may just be one of many coping strategies that are easily accessible and legal.
The Brain & Depression
When neurotransmitters fail to release messages from one neuron to another neuron, the brain doesn’t get the message or the message is delayed. To explain: A neuron is a nerve cell, and a neurotransmitter is a chemical in the brain that transmit messages between neurons. There are many neurotransmitters that affect human behavior, such as mood, anger, fear, memory, etc. The following list below are the most common neurotransmitters that are associated with depression.
1. Acetylcholine- enhances memory and is involved in learning and recall. (Depressed people have less)
2. Serotonin- regulates sleep, appetite, mood, and inhibits pain. (Depressed people have less)
3. Dopamine- influences motivation and influences movement. (Depressed people have less)
4. GABA- an inhibitory/relaxing neurotransmitter. (Depressed people have less)
Low levels of these neurotransmitters are the leading cause of psychosis, suicide, and hallucinations, and . . . you guessed it: Depression. For example, if the brain has low levels of serotonin, a person may experience severe mood swings, loss of appetite, etc. For more information about neurotransmitters and depression click the following link: www.health.harvard.edu/newweek/what-causes-depression.htm.
The brain is a powerful organ. Any damage to the brain can impact human behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and low levels of brain neurotransmitters can cause depression, so the brain must find a way to correct it's imbalances in one way or another. However, the brain does not always find the best ways to correct it's imbalances, and some people may turn to cigarrettes in order to change their brain chemistry temporarily while others may choose healthier options such as excersize. What does your brain choose?
Research has shown that many people choose to smoke in order to make themselves “feel better” by changing their brain chemistry. Some people have high levels of "Self Efficacy" or the ability to manage their own internal states, but some people have lower levels of "Self Efficacy", which means that they tend to rely upon external factors in order to influence their emotional states. Susan Mae concludes in her published research article, Self-Efficacy: A Mediator of Smoking Behavior and Depression among College Students that individuals who smoke have low self-efficacy, are more susceptible to depression, and are more likely to use smoking as a coping mechanism (Mae, 2014).
Depression Is Not Unique To Smokers
According to some, the best solution to handle depression is medication and behavior management from a licensed professional. Many professionals treat clients that use unhealthy coping mechanisms to minimize the effects of depression. However, there is a vast population of individuals that suffer from depression that are not medicated and live normal lives.
Some people turn to religion, writing, and exercise to cope with symptoms of depression without considering unhealthy coping mechanisms, so this must be considered as well.
How do you cope with depression?
- Heather Browning, MBA, BA Psychology
Mae, Susan. (2014). Self-Efficacy: A Mediator of Smoking Behavior and Depression among College Students. Pediatric Nursing. 12, 40(1).