For years it has been known that there is a correlation between smoking and depression. While it is known that the rates of people suffering from depression are higher among smokers than non-smokers, the precise cause and effect relationship of this statistic is not certain.
There appears to be a definite risk of becoming a smoker if you are already depressed. Nicotine has short-term effects on the brain’s neurotransmitters. This is what causes the feeling of calm associated with smoking. However, while this feeling of calm may work to reduce depressive symptoms, it is less effective than prescription anti-depressants and as such needs constant application through smoking. Additionally, over time, the effects as a self-treatment are minimal. In fact, studies done with teenagers have shown that those with depression are more likely to become heavy smokers, implying that they require more and more nicotine for the same effect.
A secondary theory is that smoking actually causes depression. While the exact mechanism isn’t clear, studies conducted with teen smokers clearly demonstrate that smoking can trigger the on-set of depression, even in those people who had no history of the condition. Additionally, it is possible that part of the reason people who smoke are depressed has to do with the psychology of addiction itself. When a smoker is confronted with a choice between spending money on something they want rather than cigarettes, they will buy the cigarettes because they feel they "need" them. This can lead to feeling trapped a cycle, especially when the drive to quit smoking is factored in.
For those people who suffer from depression, it is actually much more difficult to quit smoking. Part of the reason for this is the fact that every cigarette a smoker uses counteracts the withdrawal symptoms occurring since the previous cigarette. When quitting, those withdrawal symptoms have no cure except time. The problem is that withdrawal symptoms coupled with depression can be overwhelming. The compound effect of the two often leads those trying to quit into giving up. In fact, people who quit smoking may see a short-term increase in the risk of depression or in depression symptoms. Most people who suffer from depression require assistance to quit, either in the form of medication or therapy. In the long-term, however, people who quit smoking are no more at risk of depression than those who have never smoked.
So what makes the relationship between smoking and depression so strong? At this point, there is no definitive answer. One possibility is a genetic link between the predisposition for depression and the tendency toward addictive behaviors. This is one avenue currently being studied, but the possibilities are numerous. All that is certain at this point is that there is a direct correlation between nicotine and depression. The best thing for all smokers with depression to do is to seek help in ridding themselves of cigarettes for good. Doing so will not only improve their physical health, but likely their mental health as well.