Using Tobacco Reduces Stress? Not So, Say Researchers

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Tobacco and stress: It's a vicious cycle. The very thing many do to ease their stress is actually contributing to it.

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Although stress levels rise in the initial days of the quit process, after 14 days of abstinence the former user is no more stressed than he would be if he were smoking.

Most tobacco users believe that tobacco reduces their stress and helps them manage unpleasant moods. Many service men and women report that stress is a major reason they smoke or chew tobacco, since military life produces unique pressures and challenges. But a recent article published on the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) tobacco cessation website, http://www.ucanquit2.org, explains how tobacco actually increases stress and why stress levels go down after people kick the nicotine habit.

According to the article, tobacco users feel normal after using nicotine, but stress levels rise in between smoke or chew breaks. Thus, the tobacco user is kept constantly bouncing back and forth between feeling normal immediately after using and feeling increasingly stressed as the hours since their last intake of nicotine go by.

“Nicotine gives the impression of reducing stress because, for those addicted to nicotine, the experience of not having nicotine in their body is extremely stressful,” said Cmdr. Aileen Buckler, M.D., M.P.H., U.S. Public Health Service officer and chairman of the DoD Alcohol and Tobacco Advisory Committee.

Many tobacco users may fear quitting because they imagine that the discomfort of nicotine deprivation – and the accompanying anxiety and irritability – will go on indefinitely. But studies show that the tide quickly turns. Although stress levels rise in the initial days of the quit process, after 14 days of abstinence the former user is no more stressed than he would be if he were smoking. From there, it only gets better. Six months out, the former tobacco user can expect to experience significantly less stress than he did as a tobacco user.

To help active duty military, veterans, retirees and their families achieve a less stressful, tobacco-free life, DoD offers stress management techniques and a variety of helpful tools at http://www.ucanquit2.org. When tobacco users are feeling stressed as they withdraw from nicotine or just need to find support for quitting tobacco, they can access live help, a free, confidential online chat service from trained tobacco cessation coaches, available 24/7 in real time. They can also locate support with the interactive tool for finding local tobacco cessation programs.

Quit Tobacco—Make Everyone Proud is the tobacco counter-marketing program of the U.S. Department of Defense/TRICARE® and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It offers education and support to active-duty service members, Veterans, retirees, and family members to help them quit smoking and using smokeless tobacco. The campaign’s award-winning website features interactive, customizable tools and resources, including tobacco cessation training, real-time live help with expert quit coaches, quit plans and calendars, text message tips, a savings calculator, games, social networking connections, and more.

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