Smoking Possibly Linked to Depression

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Many smokers point to nicotine addiction as the reason they continue to smoke, but have no clear answers into why they can't seem to quit.

Many say when they're feeling bad, the urge to spark on up is almost irresistible.

"When I get stressed, I've got to smoke," said Detroit resident Michael Jones.

"If you don't smoke, you just wouldn't understand," agrees East Lansing resident Seth Taylor.

It's a proven fact that nicotine is a powerfully addictive substance, but at the University of Michigan, there's research underway that's looking at a possible link between smoking and depression.

There are several reasons people might start smoking in the first place, reasons like susceptibility to peer pressure, looking for new experiences or the rush of a nicotine hit.

Ovide Pomerleau, Ph.D., is the director of the UM Behavioral Medicine Program and professor of psychology in psychiatry. He also oversees the Nicotine Research Laboratory, which is conducting the smoking/depression study.

"Well, the relationship between smoking and depression takes several forms. The issues are not really settled yet and this is why we're conducting research in this area. One explanation for the relationship is the self-medication idea -- that nicotine has a short-term beneficial effect on the neurotransmitter systems that are involved in depression, and that this relief can be produced by smoking a cigarette. So typically, the effect would be fairly short-lasting, a few hours, certainly not the same as a prescribed anti-depressant. But re-dosing is fairly easy because cigarettes are available," Dr. Pomerleau said.

In layman's terms, it means smoking might temporarily lift depression. While the effect is short-lived, another cigarette is not hard to come by.

Another theory says smoking may cause depression, or make it worse. People who are genetically susceptible to depression may also be more susceptible to smoking. That means when a depressed person tries to quit, it may make the depression worse.

" For a person with a history of depression, particularly serious clinically diagnosed depression, giving up smoking may require some additional procedures and some precautions," said Dr. Pomerleau.

It could mean a prescription of Zyban, a stop- smoking drug that's actually an anti-depressant. It's also marketed under the name Wellbutrin.

The UM researchers hope they can come up with a genetic or behavioral explanation as to why some people smoke and others don't. They hope the explanation will lead to a breakthrough "cure" for smoking -- something that will make it easier for smokers to break the nicotine addiction.

They point to frightening statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the impetus behind the study. On average, according to the CDC, men and women who smoke die 13 to 14 years earlier than non-smokers.

About 430,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related diseases, and it costs about $100 billion a year in lost work and medical treatment.

The Nicotine Research Laboratory is accepting both smokers and non-smokers into the study of the genetics of smoking and depression.

To find out if you qualify: call 1(800) 742-2300. Smokers should enter category #6308. Non-smokers should enter category #6321.

The University of Michigan pays the subjects of its studies as well.