I started smoking when I was a teenager in high school, almost immediately after starting as a freshman. I was 15 and I remember doing it because all of my friends were doing it. During lunch breaks it felt good to go stand outside the little store across the street from the school, talking about whatever. I thought it helped me relax and relieve stress from all of the hard school work. Now when I look back on it though, I realize I was only trying to fit in. It was one of the worst decisions of my life.
After reviewing a study from scientists at the University of Toronto and the University of Montreal on the “Use of cigarettes to improve affect and depressive symptoms in a longitudinal study of adolescents,” I wonder if it may have entirely changed the course of my life. While many young teens, and people in general, think that smoking improves mood and has self-medicating effects, the recent study actually shows that in the long-term, teens who smoke report higher depressive symptoms.
This study took 662 high school students from grades 7 to 11 and asked them up to 20 questions regarding their use of cigarettes as mood enhancers. To provide a wider range of results, they also mixed in students from secondary schools, urban and rural schools, French and English students and schools located in neighborhoods of varying levels of socioeconomics.
There were three groups: those who have never smoked, those who did not use cigarettes to self-medicate, and those who did use cigarettes to self-medicate. The research looked at several symptoms that show signs of depression; anxiety, nervousness, feeling tired often, trouble going to sleep, feelings of hopelessness, feeling unhappy and worrying too much.
Based on the above signs of depression, the study showed that smokers who used cigarettes as mood enhancers had higher risks of depressive symptoms as compared to teens who have never smoked.
Now the reason I wonder if my own smoking habits as a teen has altered my course in life is because I also had small bouts of depression. Never to the point of requiring professional help, but my friends can tell you that I would get quite down on myself. I felt hopelessness for my future and in 10th grade I dropped out of high school. I began hanging out with some bad people and got into a lot of trouble. I just didn’t care anymore.
A year and a half after dropping out of school, I took a hard look at my life and was embarrassed at what I had thrown away and what my family thought of me. I could see it in their faces. So I went back to school, graduated and went to college. I’ve never been happier.
I’m not saying that cigarettes had anything to do with this entire series of events, but what if it did?
*image courtesy of Valentin.Ottone