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Smoking Leads to Panic Disorder, Studies Show

Review on March 30, 2009

While many smokers turn to the comfort of a cigarette to calm their nerves in times of stress, recent studies have unfortunately shown the opposite effect may occur. It has been shown that smoking cigarettes may lead to generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. This is particular true when young men and women begin their smoking habit while teenagers.

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Researchers from Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute combined forces in a massive study following a group of teenage smokers throughout the 1990's, documenting the long term psychological roles smoking played. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the researchers saw a link between teenage smoking and the development down the road of panic disorder.

As teenagers, 6% of the surveyed group smoked upwards of 20 cigarettes per day, and a corresponding 6% of the group experienced panic disorder. This trend continued when surveyed some years later, at the age of 22. The number of smokers who smoked more than 20 cigarettes per day had risen to 15% of the group, and the percentage experiencing panic disorder was also higher, at 10%.

Other issues were taken into consideration, such as alcohol, drug use, and previous mood disorders. It seems that those teenagers who were already experiencing anxiety or panic disorder were no more likely to become heavy smokers, though the opposite was true. Those teenagers who took up a heavy smoking habit were more likely to experience panic disorder later in life.

While more research is needed to uncover the exact mechanism behind this correlation, the results of this study on panic disorder were surprising to researchers. One possible theory to explain the connection is that smoking reduces the body's breathing capacity. An inability to breathe well is one of the hallmarks of a panic disorder, and may explain why smoking exacerbates the incidence of panic attacks. In any case, this latest research may be yet another reason to resist the urge to depend on cigarettes to alleviate anxiety or panic disorder, as they may spur the opposite effect.

  • "Smoking May Lead to Anxiety Disorders in Adolescents and Young Adults," Nida Notes, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Vol. 16, Number 1, March 2001. "Smoking Increases Anxiety Risk", BBC News Report, November 2000.