It’s hard to give up smoking, even for those who are fairly new to the deadly habit, according to a new study that found that quitting smoking is just as hard for teenagers as it is for adults.
In the study, published online Sept. 4 in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, scientists at Brown University found that young people who are new smokers suffer nearly all of the same negative psychological effects when they try to quit as people who’ve smoked for years.
Unlike adults trying to quit, however, teens aren’t irritated by certain sounds and they are still able to feel happy. The study authors suggested their findings could help improve programs designed to help people stop smoking.
“Adolescents are showing — even relatively early in the dependence process — significant, strong, negative effects just after acute abstinence from smoking,” study lead author L. Cinnamon Bidwell, assistant professor (research) in psychiatry and human behavior at Brown’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, said in a university news release. “Our study shows what those specific effects are. We chose a broad array” of factors to study.
The study involved 96 teenagers, ranging in age from 13 to 19. The teens were divided into three groups: 22 nonsmokers, 27 smokers who did not change their habit, and 47 smokers who avoided cigarettes for almost a full day. The researchers noted that the teen smokers had about nine cigarettes each day for about two years.
The teens who quit for one day had their expired carbon monoxide levels measured once before they stopped smoking and again after they stopped to confirm they did not have a cigarette. After not smoking, the study revealed these teens experienced the same withdrawal symptoms, smoking urges, negative mood swings and intense cravings as those recorded in adults.
“In terms of the subjective negative reactions and the urge reactions, their patterns look remarkably similar to adults,” senior author Suzanne Colby, associate professor (research) in psychiatry and human behavior at the center, explained in the news release. “That is really interesting because they are smoking fewer cigarettes per day and they’ve just been smokers for a shorter period of time.”
The study also found the teens felt cravings for cigarettes even when not “provoked” with obvious triggers such as showing them a lit cigarette.
“They came in and their craving and negative affect were already high,” Colby said.
The teen smokers also had a stronger reaction to smoking-specific cues than their peers, according to the researchers, who suggested their findings could make smoking cessation programs targeting teens more effective.
The findings “point to withdrawal, urge . . . and negative affect” (mood) as possible treatment targets in teens, and suggest that future studies of teen smoking should look at these factors, the study authors concluded.