The negative health consequences associated with smoking are too numerous to list. And yet, despite being fully aware of these risks, many thousands of people still smoke. Although rates of smoking have dropped dramatically in recent decades, this behavior still represents a significant health problem for many people in society, and depressed women in particular. According to existing research, women with depression, anxiety, or similar issues, are more likely to smoke to alleviate their stress than men with similar disorders. And because rates of affective issues are higher among women, the rate of smoking is too. However, it is unclear whether other coping strategies, specifically religious coping, decreases the risk for smoking in depressed women.
To test this theory, Karissa D. Horton of the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at The University of Texas at Austin recently led a study examining the role of religious coping and its effect on depressive symptoms and smoking behaviors in a sample of 963 college students. She asked the students to report their levels of positive or negative religious coping, depressive symptoms, and cigarette use in the month prior to the study. She found that for the women in her sample, religious coping contributed highly to the level of depression and cigarette usage.
The women with depression were more likely to smoke than those without. However, if they used religion as a positive way to cope with their depression, their risk for smoking dropped. But when Horton looked at the effect of religious coping on depression itself, she found that both negative and positive religious coping increased the depression-smoking relationship. For women without depression, positive religious coping decreased cigarette use. This suggests that for non-depressed women, religion may be a way to alleviate psychological stress without the negative effects of maladaptive coping techniques, like smoking.
Of interest was the fact that none of these findings appeared among the men in the study. In fact, depression did not increase risk of smoking for men, and neither form of religious coping affected rate of smoking, level of depression, level of stress or the depression-smoking relationship. Further research needs to explore why men were insulated from any effect, and what coping strategies they turn to when depressed. Until then, these results have positive, yet unexpected, possibilities for religiosity as a coping strategy. “The implication of these findings for women who are currently trying to quit smoking, is that in addition to other resources, religious coping may contribute to decreases in smoking,” said Horton.
Horton, K. D., and Loukas, A. (2012). Depressive symptoms, religious coping, and cigarette smoking among post-secondary vocational students. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031195
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