Study suggests that quitting smoking improves mood

January 7, 2011
Quit smoking; feel better Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Quitting smoking is certainly healthy for the body, but doctors and scientists haven’t been sure whether quitting makes people happier, especially since conventional wisdom says many smokers use cigarettes to ease anxiety and depression. In a new study, researchers tracked the symptoms of depression in people who were trying to quit and found that they were never happier than when they were being successful, for however long that was.

Based on their results, the authors of the article published online Nov. 24 in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research recommend that smokers embrace quitting as a step toward improving mental as well as physical health, said Christopher Kahler, corresponding author and research professor of community health at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Quitting is not, as some smokers may fear, a grim psychological sacrifice to be made for the sake of longevity.

"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," said Kahler. "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."

Moving mood

Kahler and colleagues from Brown, The Miriam Hospital, and the University of Southern California studied a group of 236 men and women seeking to quit smoking, who also happened to be heavy social drinkers. They received nicotine patches and counseling on quitting and then agreed to a quit date; some also were given specific advice to reduce drinking. Participants took a standardized test of symptoms of depression a week before the quit date and then two, eight, 16, and 28 weeks after that date.

All but 29 participants exhibited one of four different quitting behaviors: 99 subjects never abstained; 44 were only abstinent at the two-week assessment; 33 managed to remain smoke-free at the two- and eight-week checkups; 33 managed to stay off cigarettes for the entire study length.