It appears to be a myth that giving up smoking most likely makes you miserable. Brown University researchers found that those who were in the process of quitting smoking were never happier. Their study appears in an article in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

The authors explained that giving up smoking is known to be good for our physical health; however, nobody really seems to know whether the process makes us happy or depressed. One reads about smokers claiming to derive relief from anxiety and depression from their tobacco products.

Corresponding author, Christopher Kahler says smokers thinking of quitting should be encouraged by the double benefit – both physical and mental. Giving up is far from being a psychological nightmare done just for the sake of living a longer life, he added.

Kahler added:

    “The assumption has often been that people might smoke because it has antidepressant properties and that if they quit it might unmask a depressive episode. What’s surprising is that at the time when you measure smokers’ mood, even if they’ve only succeeded for a little while, they are already reporting less symptoms of depression.”

Kahler and team examined data on 236 male and female smokers who wanted to give up. They were also heavy social drinkers. They were all provided with smoking cessation counseling and nicotine patches and then set a date to give up smoking. A number of the participants were also given counseling on ways to cut down on their alcohol consumption.

They all underwent a standardized test for symptoms of depression seven days before they stopped smoking. Further psychological evaluations for depression took place 2, 8, 16 and 28 weeks after their quit date.

Of the 236 candidates:

  • 99 failed straight away (never abstained)
  • 44 were only found to be smoking free during their first evaluation after the quit date
  • 33 abstained successfully right up to their 8-week check-up
  • 33 abstained throughout the whole period of the study
  • 29 exhibited none of the above-mentioned quitting behaviors

Among those who managed to quit for a while, the researchers found that they were in very high spirits (happy) during the check-ups when their smoking cessation was being successfully carried out. However, after failing their moods darkened significantly, and in many cases to lower depths than before the whole study began.

Kahler said that enhanced mood and periods of abstinence went hand-in-hand – the correlation was clear.

The participants who failed straight away were still followed up throughout the study and were found to be the unhappiest of all the groups. The ones who managed to abstain throughout the study period had the highest levels of happiness, the authors wrote.

Kahler believes it is possible to extrapolate from this study and generalize over the whole population, even though his participants were relatively heavy drinkers. He refers to a 2002 study of smokers who had all experienced episodes of depression in their lives, but did not all drink.

The authors added that the link between happiness and smoking cessation was strong, regardless of whether the participant was drinking less or the same – the constant was successful smoking cessation.

The researchers believe that giving up smoking relieves symptoms of depression and that it is a myth to believe smoking eases anxiety.

Kahler said:

    “If they quit smoking their depressive symptoms go down and if they relapse, their mood goes back to where they were. An effective antidepressant should look like that.”

“Time-Varying Smoking Abstinence Predicts Lower Depressive Symptoms Following Smoking Cessation Treatment”
Christopher W. Kahler, Nichea S. Spillane, Ph.D., Andrew M. Busch, Ph.D.,Adam M. Leventhal, Ph.D
Nicotine Tob Res (2010) doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntq213

Written by Christian Nordqvist