Vaping and mental health

It’s no surprise that that any form of smoking is bad for your physical health. Whether that is cigarettes, cigars, hookahs or vapes, they all have negative effects on lung and heart health. Yet, most people don’t consider the affects vaping has on their mental health.

Why do we vape?

When we vape, nicotine reaches the brain within 20 seconds and releases dopamine, a hormone that makes us feel happy, motivated, and satisfied. However, nicotine doesn’t stay in the body for very long and this can intensify cravings to vape more, subsequently, cycling the damaging pattern.

The 2022 survey from Student Minds, said that over half the students said they currently had mental health issues and 30% of students said their mental health had gotten worse since beginning their studies. Many students feel the need to alleviate these struggles with quick fixes and self-medication, such as cigarettes and vaping, which can lead to dependence and addiction.

How does vaping affect mental health?

Brain development

For most people, the human brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25, so for many students their brains and lungs are still developing.

Still in the developing stage, student’s brains and lungs are more sensitive to the effects of vaping. Vaping harms the part of the brain that controls attention, learning, mood and impulse control, all important skills whilst studying. With all these cognitive functions impaired, there is a higher risk of mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression for people who vape.

In addition to this, developing brains are more susceptible to addiction because the lack of development in the cognitive skills of assessment and judgment.

Sleep

We all know that sleep is incredibly important to our mental health and wellbeing. Yet, people who vape could be at higher risk of disrupting their sleep schedule, consequently risking mental health challenges.

Researchers at the University of Surrey discovered that vape users are significantly less likely to have good quality sleep compared to their non-vaping peers. In fact, the study stated that over three-quarters of vapers showed signs of insomnia because of their vaping habit. This is largely due to nicotine being a stimulant and its connection to bad dreams, sleep fragmentation and sleep restlessness, subsequently interfering with the quality of sleep.  

Anxiety and depression

According to the University of Surrey, 95.9% of people who vape categorised themselves as having clinical levels of anxiety symptoms and The Telegraph reports that vapers are 20% more likely to have symptoms of anxiety. 

Medical News Today reported that there is a strong connection between people who vape and depression, stating that vape users are twice as likely to report having clinical depression compared to those who do not. 

With students already experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression, vapes will only exacerbate the problem, causing increased stress, anxiety and depression. Students may experience this vicious cycle of repeated anxiety, depression and wanting to vape to alleviate the stress. Due to this, students are often more susceptible to self-medicating to offset short-term stressor, perpetuating the harmful cycle of vaping and poor mental health. 

Quitting support

Most people will need support when quitting smoking and there is no shame in asking for support.

Quitting can be a positive motivator, once you have quit you may feel as though you can take on new challenges, pick up some better habits and maybe change other negative habits. However, when quitting smoking you may experience some unpleasant and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as feeling irritated and restless. So, it is important to find the right support for you.

Here are some helpful tips in helping your quit:

Talk to a counsellor

Counsellors can give different perspectives and signpost to further support. They may be able to understand and discuss why you feel the need to vape, and with that knowledge quitting vaping could become easier.

Build a quit plan

Having a plan keep you accountable, on track with your goal and shows your journey. For a plan you must understand why you are quitting, how you are going to mitigate withdrawal cravings and a quit date.

Understand your triggers

Triggers can disrupt and derail all your hard work when quitting. It is important to understand what your triggers are and how you are going to manage them.

Are you tempted to vape at social situations or events? Make it a rule not to go into the smoking area or avoid places where people can vape. Does social media trigger you? Unfollow all vape style content or take a break from social media. Do you want to vape when you feel stressed? Replace it with going on a walk or breathing exercises.

Exercise

Exercise distracts the mind and reduces withdrawal symptoms and craving making it easier for you to keep on track. Join a sports society or club, such as netball, rugby or football or you could join a gym, many offer student discount.

Lean on supportive people

Quitting vaping is tough and for those moments where you feel as though you are going to give in, lean on the people you trust the most. Trusted friends, family, lecturers or teachers are all great people to go to when you need their support.

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