Smoking is a global problem and has long been associated with negative mental health. People with psychological problems are much more likely to smoke than those without. Few studies, however, have looked at how adolescent smoking impacts vulnerability to mental health problems. Because rates of smoking are extremely high among people with anxiety, Steven Moylan of the School of Medicine at Deakin University in Australia chose to study anxiety and smoking in a large sample of adolescents selected from the The Tracing Opportunities and Problems in Childhood and Adolescence Study (TOPP).
The participants were assessed from early childhood through young adulthood. Moylan used this data to examine vulnerability for anxiety in early childhood using markers of emotional disposition, internalizing and shyness. Further, he looked at rates of smoking during adolescence in relation to early vulnerability and also looked at adolescent smoking and young adult anxiety.
Moylan found adolescents who smoked were more likely to have anxiety in early adulthood than those who did not. However, anxiety in adolescence was not predictive of smoking in early adulthood. Another interesting finding was the relationship between childhood vulnerability to anxiety and adolescent smoking. Specifically, participants with highly emotional dispositions and internalizing behaviors in infancy and early childhood were at increased risk for adolescent smoking and early adult anxiety. Childhood shyness was not linked to teen smoking.
Moylan believes that these findings indicate that adolescent smoking may provide a unique risk to those already vulnerable to anxiety. Smoking may change the trajectory of anxiety and risk of anxiety in some, putting them at further risk for anxiety symptoms in early adulthood and beyond. Although Moylan’s research did not control for depression, he hopes future work will explore how depression and other mental health issues are influenced by adolescent smoking.
The findings revealed here emphasize the importance of smoking cessation efforts aimed particularly at young people, adolescents and even children. Moylan added, “These efforts may exert positive effects not just on characteristics of physical health but also on anxiety.”
Moylan, S., Gustavson, K., Karevold, E., Øverland, S., Jacka, F.N., et al. (2013). The Impact of Smoking in Adolescence on Early Adult Anxiety Symptoms and the Relationship between Infant Vulnerability Factors for Anxiety and Early Adult Anxiety Symptoms: The TOPP Study. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63252. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063252
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