The negative effects of smoking have been studied exhaustively. Results of existing research on smoking show that smoking can not only lead to a number of physical health problems and physiological health conditions, but also potentially exacerbate mental health issues. In fact, some research suggests that smoking can lead to psychological problems, while other research shows that psychological illness increases the risk of smoking. To clarify this issue, Johan Hakon Bjorngaard of the Department of Public Health and the Faculty of Medicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Norway conducted an analysis using data from over 53,000 adult smokers. He looked specifically at the genetic make-up and alleles of a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) to see if there was a genetic predictor of who was more likely to smoke, and whether the SNP could predict which smokers were at risk for depression and anxiety.
Bjorngaard evaluated self reports and clinical data and found that individuals who smoked had higher rates of both depression and anxiety than nonsmokers. The SNP was able to identify those who smoked, and based on the number of alleles, Bjorngaard could also determine the number of cigarettes the individuals smoked. The results of the examination also revealed that as the number of alleles affected increased, so did the risk of developing anxiety. This same finding did not apply to risk of depression.
These results provide evidence that genetic markers can indicate who is more likely to smoke, and can even approximate how much a person smokes. However, they do not show that smoking raises the risk for mental illness. It is more likely that individuals with anxiety and depression use smoking as a form of self-medication. Also, Bjorngaard believes that people who smoke may have more physical health problems, which can also put them at risk for depression and anxiety. A secondary finding of this study was that the genetic marker and allele association was an indicator of having ever smoked or not. Bjorngaard believes that perhaps this could indicate a genetic risk for smoking initiation. “However,” he added, “As the finding was restricted to current smokers, it seems more likely that the finding suggests that quitting smoking is more difficult for those carrying this genetic variant.” Regardless, this study opens new lines of questioning related to mental illness, smoking risk, and smoking cessation that should be studied in future research.
Bjørngaard, J.H., et al. (2013). The causal role of smoking in anxiety and depression: A Mendelian randomization analysis of the HUNT Study. Psychological Medicine 43.4 (2013): 711-9. ProQuest. Web.
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