New Study Confirms Depressed Smokers Self-Medicate

New York, NY -- A new study published in today’s Lancet by researchers from the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons suggests that smokers with a history of major depression who quit smoking are at much greater risk for a recurrence of their depression than people who continue to smoke. Major depression is a diagnostic category that is characterized by persistent depressed mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure. Depression is frequently associated with changes in sleep, weight, energy, concentration, and/or sexual interest and suicidal ideation is not unusual. In an attempt to help smokers shed their addiction to cigarettes, Dr. Alexander Glassman, Chief of Clinical Psychopharmacology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, and colleagues enrolled 100 smokers, who had a history of major depression in a two-month trial of antidepressant medication, believed to be effective in alleviating the craving for cigarettes. The study excluded smokers who had experienced a major depressive episode in the six months prior to enrollment and the average time since their last major depressive episode was six years. Smokers were given behavioral therapy and randomly assigned a placebo or antidepressant. Upon completion of the study, 44 had successfully quit. All participants—both those who were able to quit and those who failed—were followed for six additional months. Of those who had successfully quit smoking, 31% experienced depression compared to only 6% of those who failed to quit, a more than five fold increase. “These findings document the long-held suspicion that, for some, smoking has a palliative effect on depression,” said Dr. Glassman. “More importantly, however, our study shows that new treatments need to be developed in order to help ex-smokers treat their depression without relapsing to smoking.” Dr. Glassman and Dr. Lirio Covey, who directs the Smoking Cessation Clinic at Columbia University, are currently investigating this possibility. “Hypothetically,” he added, “nicotine or nicotine-like substances that are not smoked may be useful anti-depressants and that deserves a research study of its own.”



Alexander Glassman, Columbia University, Lirio Covey, Physicians Surgeons