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Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Untreated Depression: The REAL Reason People Still Smoke?
It is hard to imagine how anyone who lives in America today is unaware of the myriad of health problems associated with smoking cigarettes — from developing lung cancer to colon cancer to even breast cancer. You know the ol’ saying that “ignorance is bliss,” but when it comes to the dangers of smoking, I highly doubt that anyone can claim ignorance as a defense for continuing to smoke.
So the question remains: How could anyone continue to do something that is so obviously unhealthy and associated with very few, if any, social benefits? The answer to this question, I think, lies in the fact that any human behavior acting in direct contradiction to common public knowledge and well-known social norms almost always points to some underlying and hidden pathology.
It turns out that up to 30% of people who smoke cigarettes actually smoke because they’re depressed. The nicotine they’re consuming acts in the brain in a way similar to how some antidepressant medications act. Yes, the nicotine found in cigarettes literally improves the mood of some people. The fact of the matter is that approximately 30% of people who smoke are likely not smoking for the ‘joy’ of smoking; they’re actually smoking in an effort to self-medicate their depression.
This insight was first revealed in the U.S. while researchers were conducting clinical trials on an antidepressant drug called Wellbutrin. During the trial to determine if Wellbutrin was effective for treating depression, a substantial number of patients in the study suddenly stopped smoking. Wellbutrin was repackaged and renamed Zyban, which was marketed as a non-nicotine treatment to help stop smoking.
So what’s the bottom line? The bottom line is that your spouse, your loved one, or even you may be smoking in an effort to self-medicate depression, and if the depression was appropriately addressed and treated, you or a loved one could lose the desire to smoke altogether! So if you need (or someone you know needs) to stop smoking, think about and discuss with your healthcare provider how your mood may be playing a role.
Jeffrey B. Brown, M.D., is a Johns Hopkins University/Sinai Hospital Internal Medicine trained physician. Throughout his medical school years, residency training and practice of internal medicine, he has received numerous awards and accolades for his compassion and pursuit of academic excellence. Dr. Brown is certified by the National Board of Internal Medicine. For more information, visit his website: www.jeffreybrownmd.com