There has always been anecdotal evidence and the general assumption that people who are lonely are more likely to smoke, and vice versa.
However, until recently there had been little scientific research into the direct correlation between smoking and loneliness.
This is why a recent study carried out by the University of Bristol has piqued the interest of many. The study involved using the genetic and survey data from hundreds of thousands of people to better understand the correction between loneliness and smoking.
Dr. Robyn Wootton, co-lead author of the study said, “This method has never been applied to this question before and so the results are novel, but also tentative. We found evidence to suggest that loneliness leads to increased smoking, with people more likely to start smoking, to smoke more cigarettes, and to be less likely to quit.”
The vicious cycle of loneliness and smoking
One of the most interesting debates about smoking and loneliness is whether or not being lonely leads to smoking. Or, whether smoking leads to increased loneliness.
It’s widely assumed that nicotine, the most addictive substance in tobacco, interferes with dopamine levels in the brain. This could cause people to become more withdrawn and experience less pleasure from daily activities.
Combined with smoking being a form of comfort for most, this starts a vicious cycle of cigarette dependence and comfort from being alone.
What the pandemic has shown us about isolation and smoking
With the pandemic forcing a lot of people to be in isolation, it’s the perfect time for such a study.
YouGov’s Covid-19 tracker, which monitors views and behaviours during the pandemic, suggests more than 2.2 million people across the UK are smoking more than they were before lockdown rules were enforced.
It also suggests that loneliness has increased since the lockdown started, which doesn’t come as a surprise.
Dr. Robyn Wootton added, ‘We were really interested to find that loneliness decreases the likelihood of stopping smoking and we think this is a really important consideration for those trying to stop smoking during the pandemic.’
This means that not only are lonely people more likely to smoke, it’s also harder for them to quit. This is possibly due to the link made earlier between the cycle of dependency on how smoking and loneliness makes someone feel.
Why are loneliness and smoking connected?
The real question is why loneliness and smoking are connected. While the study did produce a lot of data to work with and show a clear correlation, there is still some speculation around the actual reasoning.
Dr. Jorien Treur, senior author of the study said, “Smokers tend to use cigarettes as a way of coping when they feel low. It is likely that feelings of loneliness or depression, which are highly correlated, can diminish people’s capacity to resist grabbing a cigarette.”
Knowing more about the reasons, external or internal, causing people to smoke more or find it difficult to quit is incredibly valuable to aid stop smoking services.
There will almost certainly be more studies into the data produced by this study. The full effects of the lockdown are still yet to be fully realised too, which will provide some more insight into the effects of loneliness on individuals.
How we can help
If you’re trying to quit smoking, here at Ventus Medical we have developed a number of safer NRT products that will help you quit smoking.
Our toxicology and regulatory teams have been working diligently, combining pharmaceutical experience, regulatory expertise, and unique industry insights to develop the safest possible NRT solutions.
If you would like to find out more about Ventus Medical and our products, click here to contact us.