There are obvious physical health benefits that come with giving up tobacco, but it turns out there are some mental health benefits too.
Researchers have consistently found a link between quitting smoking and positive mental health outcomes. For example, a meta-analysis of 26 studies published in 2014 found that smoking cessation was associated with lower anxiety, depression and stress as well as higher quality of life.
Now, a new study sheds light on why this might be the case. It raises the possibility that successfully kicking a nicotine habit leads to some positive mental health changes, which in turn lead to other changes, and so on.
In the study, researchers tracked 386 smokers who were under treatment to quit smoking. They followed the adults for a year, paying special attention to their alcohol use and their anxiety sensitivity – that is, their tendency to be afraid of feelings and symptoms associated with anxiety.
As the participants stopped smoking, the researchers noticed a pattern in their mental health. First, their anxiety sensitivity went down. Then, later, their alcohol use decreased.
Moreover, anxiety sensitivity was closely related to alcohol use such that people who experienced a drop in anxiety sensitivity tended to subsequently start using alcohol less.
These findings suggest that quitting smoking can set off a chain reaction of positive mental health changes. Although more studies are needed, the most obvious interpretation of the results is that ditching cigarettes leads to a reduction in anxiety sensitivity, which in turn leads to less alcohol use. And it’s a reasonable guess that the effects don’t stop there, with lower alcohol use having its own mental and physical health benefits.
Many smokers use smoking to cope with mental health challenges. But this study adds to a large collection of evidence showing that, ultimately, giving up cigarettes is associated with a range of positive mental health changes.
Image: Flickr/Ard Hesselink