Smokers who successfully quit feel less anxious afterwards, according to new research from King’s College London in collaboration with the Universities of Southampton, Oxford and Cambridge.
The findings, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, contradict a widely held belief that smoking relieves stress and giving up makes people feel more on edge.
The study followed 491 smokers attending National Health Service (NHS) smoking cessation clinics in England. All participants were given a nicotine patch and attended eight weekly appointments.
Of the sample, 21.6% (106 people) had a diagnosed mental health problem, primarily mood and anxiety disorders.
All participants were assessed for their anxiety levels at the start of the research, and were also asked whether their motives for smoking were ‘mainly for pleasure’, ‘mainly to cope’ or ‘about equal’.
Six months after the start of the trial, 68 of the smokers (14%) had managed to quit smoking – 10 of these had a current psychiatric disorder. The researchers found a significant difference in anxiety between those who had successfully quit and those who had relapsed.
All of those who had quit smoking showed a decrease in anxiety. People who had previously smoked to cope showed a more significant decrease in anxiety compared to those who had previously smoked for pleasure.
Among the smokers who relapsed, those smoking for enjoyment showed no change in anxiety, but those who smoked to cope and those with a diagnosed mental health problem showed an increase in anxiety.