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Wednesday, 3 November, 1999, 11:44 GMT
Depressed smokers 'need drugs to quit'
Smokers may take up the habit after emotional trauma
Smokers who had a disturbed childhood may need anti-depressants to help them quit the habit, researchers have found.

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  • US researchers found that people who suffered troubles during their childhood were more likely to take up smoking.

    Up to half of the smokers who took part in the research, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said they took up the habit as a result of family problems such as divorce or abuse.

    Those who had a severely disturbed childhood were three times more likely to become smokers than people who had not suffered the same kind of emotional stresses.

    They were five times more likely to have started smoking by the age of 14.

    Nicotine is known to improve mood and reduce anxiety, anger and depression.

    The researchers conclude: "Smokers who consciously or unconsciously use nicotine as a pharmacological tool to alleviate the long-term emotional and psycho-biological wounds of adverse childhood experiences may need special assistance to help them quit."

    Nicotine replacement not enough

    Dr Robert Anda, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said nicotine replacement therapy might not be sufficient to help people with long-standing emotional problems.

    Instead, they might need anti-depressants, medication for anxiety and follow-up therapy.

    In the US some smokers are already being prescribed a drug, Zyban, to help them quit. The drug was originally developed as an anti-depressant.

    Dr Anda recommended that every adult who smokes should be screened for mental health problems.

    The researchers studied more than 9,000 adult patients of the Kaiser Permanente health insurance program in San Diego.

    They found that two thirds had experienced at least one type of emotional disturbance in childhood.

    Another third reported two or more of the following types of dysfunction listed by researchers:

    • Emotional, physical and sexual abuse
    • A battered mother
    • Divorce or separation of parents
    • Growing up with a substance-abusing, mentally ill or incarcerated household member.

    Amanda Sandford, research manager for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said: "It seems quite likely that children who have a difficult and disturbed childhood are more likely to indulge in all sorts of risky behaviour, and to seek comfort and reassurance from artificial drugs."

    Ms Sandford said that if addiction to smoking was a mental, as well as a physiological, dependence then it was logical that anti-depressants could could play a role in helping smokers to quit.

    She said the research highlighted once again the power of the addictive properties of nicotine.

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    See also:

    06 Oct 98 | Health
    Beating the smoking blues
    25 Oct 99 | Health
    Smoking 'killing young women'
    15 Oct 99 | Medical notes
    Smoking: The health effects
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