University of Wisconsin study shows those with anxiety have a harder time quitting smoking

A new University of Wisconsin study published in Addiction shows that smokers with anxiety disorders have special challenges which complicate their ability to quit.


This study found that those with anxiety were less likely to respond to medications ( zyban lozenges, the patch) designed to help you quit, and reported higher levels of withdrawal symptoms.

This comes as no surprise. Smoking is addictive, and in place of healthy coping skills smokers pick up a cigarette. Each time they choose that as a method to deal with stress they strengthen the likelihood that they will do that again. After doing this many many times, you have virtually no other skills to deal with unpleasant emotions such as anxiety.

All people who have anxiety perpetuate it in some way, usually by avoiding the direct experience and thus increasing their anxiety about the situation. If you have social anxiety, for example, you are nervous about social events. When you avoid the event, you immediately decrease your anxious feelings providing you with a sense of relief. Unfortunately you never learn that you would be fine, and that there is nothing to worry about. The next time there is a party, you will feel even more anxiety and are more likely to avoid it.


Although smoking may not be direct avoidance of an event, it is avoidance of the emotion. If pick up a cigarette when you are scared or worried, or angry and this becomes your method of dealing with emotions. Similar to alcohol, it can transport you almost immediately to a different place, However, it does not assist you in facing the difficulties that you need to.


When I quit smoking 8 years ago, I felt a range of emotions I didn’t even know were there. I was constantly angry, anxious, overwhelmed and confused. I recognized at that point how powerful that addiction was. It truly kept me on an even emotional keel. But I was an addict, and the cost of it would be my life if I didn’t find alternate ways to deal with stress.


Without assistance in learning the skills necessary to cope with life, smokers are really up against a challenge when they try to quit. Of course anxious people who attempt to quit will suddenly be inundated with incredibly powerful emotions that they had been self medicating before. It’s not fair to expect that they would overcome the physical addiction and the emotional addiction without help. Therapy, of course, is a good place to start!

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