Despite indisputable evidence that smoking causes cancer, for both chronic and casual smokers, quitting is hard AF. New evidence suggests that the real reason it's so hard to quit smoking might not have as much to do with addiction as you think, according to a study published in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychology. In the study, researchers discovered that even for people who aren't addicted to nicotine, the social aspect of smoking is a major reason they continue to light up.
"The review identified 13 studies that experimentally manipulated nicotine and assessed social functioning, 12 of which found support for nicotine’s enhancement of social functioning," the study abstract explained. "Although few experiments have investigated social functioning, they nevertheless offer compelling evidence that nicotine enhances social functioning in smokers."
Psychology Today reported that surveys conducted in the UK found that many smokers cited socializing as one of their main reasons for lighting up, something that is especially true for smokers under the age of 35. "Even 'social smokers' who might not otherwise smoke on their own often do so at parties as a way of blending in with the crowd," Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D., wrote. Another study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors found that non-daily smokers often light up when they see other people smoking, when drinking alcohol, and in social situations.
What's more, Dr. Vitelli noted that both casual and chronic smokers tend to smoke more when they're stressed, and people who suffer from anxiety and depression are more likely to smoke than the general population. The CDC reported this population of smokers accounts for 40 percent of all cigarettes smoked by adults in the U.S., which supports previous claims that some people use smoking as a coping mechanism.
"What these results suggest is that people who might otherwise experience significant difficulty socializing, whether due to emotional problems or other factors, may be more likely to rely on tobacco as a way of overcoming social anxiety," Dr. Vitelli explained. "This also helps explain why quitting smoking can be so difficult for many people who see it as necessary in interacting with others."
Like with other compulsive behaviors, this new research reveals that in order for smokers to stop for good, the issues that drive the behavior must be explored and addressed, especially for those who use smoking as both a tool for feeling less anxious in social situations and as a coping mechanism. U.S. News & World Report noted that trying to quit smoking without a support system results in a 95-percent failure rate. On the other hand, for smokers who do seek support, 20-to-40 percent are able to stay smoke free for a year or more.
"There are a lot of different ways to give up smoking, but research shows you'll have the best chance of quitting if you take the following steps: Take time to prepare yourself mentally; get support and encouragement from people around you or professionals; learn new skills and behaviors to help you cope without cigarettes; get medication and use it correctly; and prepare yourself for difficult situations and setbacks," U.S. News & Report advised.
An increased understanding of the complex reasons smokers have such a hard time quitting can lead researchers to "focus on leveraging advances in social and developmental psychology, animal research, sociology, and neuroimaging to more comprehensively understand smoking behavior," the first study noted. Because, the more scientists know about why people do certain things that are harmful to them, the more likely they are to eventually find a way to help them stop. Though more research is needed to understand this mechanism, these new findings are encouraging as they offer a comprehensive understanding of why people are driven to smoke, and why it's so hard to quit.