Can’t Stop Smoking? Keep Away From Stress, Study Says

You have tried many ways including nicotine replacement therapy and various support programs. But nothing seemed to work. You just can’t stop craving for cigarettes and can’t help but light another one to smoke.

A study reveals that reducing stress might be a key to smoking cessation. This is especially for women and those who are easily affected by stress.

Stress and Smoking

Cigarette smoking is not all about nicotine. Even with effective treatment methods, there are still many smokers who struggle to quit smoking. The researchers stated that treatments should also be tailored between “different” individuals, either by gender or other characteristics.

Stress is one of the key drivers of smoking. Many people use cigarettes to cope up with stress or other negative feelings. However, smoking doesn’t help solve the problem; instead, it brings stress back to your body several times higher.

Previously, there are laboratory-based studies which suggest that women crave cigarettes more when they are stressed. Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina tried to apply these findings in a real-world setting.

A paper published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research claims that women and those individuals who are more susceptible to stress have more fluctuations in their smoking patterns.

Smokers’ Study

In the study, 177 smokers were shown with a different set of pictures every day. These include smoking cues, stress cues, and neutral pictures. Before and after they were shown the images, the researchers assessed their negative emotions, stress, and craving levels

After stress cues, female participants were revealed to experience more stress, negative emotion, and craving. However, regardless of gender, those with higher stress levels before being shown stress cues also experienced more stress, negative emotion, and craving.

“Fortunately, showing smokers stress and smoking cues did not result in an overall increase in cigarettes smoked,” said Rachel L. Tomko, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at MUSC and lead author of the study

Tomiko said that this might be because smokers are already exposed to similar images on a daily basis. “It is possible that minor, everyday stressors result in women smoking a cigarette a bit sooner than they would have otherwise but does not impact the overall rate of smoking. We hope to test this in future research,” she added.

Impacts to Future Treatment Programs

The findings help identify what are the possible barriers of smoking cessation that clinicians often don’t consider in present stop smoking therapies. This may lead to better treatments such as gender-specific cessation strategies.

“We know that not all existing treatments are equally effective for men and women,” Tomko said. “That could be because they find different aspects of smoking rewarding and relieving, and there are different things that maintain their smoking. Our findings suggest that stress may be one thing that maintains smoking more for women than for men.”

The researchers plan to explore further how hormones affect stress and smoking. That is by conducting studies to see the time it takes for different smokers to light up a cigarette after experiencing stress with the use of a special lighter that can record time.

They will also continue to map out other differences that may possibly affect the smokers’ response to treatment. This will help in creating better smoking cessation therapies.