Reducing feelings of stress may be a reason teenagers smoke.
People commonly report they smoke because it reduces their feelings of stress, and research shows that smokers tend to report higher levels of overall stress in their lives than non-smokers do. People who stop smoking also experience increased feelings of stress, and this stress makes quitting for good less likely. All of this research relating smoking to stress, however, has only examined adult smokers. Therefore, a pair of researchers from
decided to study the relationship between stress and smoking in teenagers.
What was the research about?
A sample of 2625 adolescents, obtained from various Australian high schools, was given questionnaires to complete. The questionnaires measured how much stress the respondent experienced from a variety of sources, such as attending school, family conflict and parental control, as well as how much the respondent smoked.
Results showed that adolescents who smoked regularly reported higher levels of overall stress compared to non-smokers. Interestingly, girls reported experiencing greater levels of stress associated with most of the sources than boys did. Stress associated with attending school, family conflict and parental control was most related to smoking for girls. These sources of stress distinguished well between girls who smoked and didn’t smoke. Stress associated with attending school was most likely to distinguish between boys who smoked and didn’t smoke. Thus stress from school, family and parental control may be what leads a teenager to smoke. These results are correlational, however, so it’s not clear whether these sources of stress actually cause a teenager to smoke or not.
Why should it matter to me?
Clearly stress is an important factor in teen smoking. Whether or not stress causes a teen to smoke is not certain; however, teens that begin to smoke may be more likely to continue because smoking does seem to help alleviate stress. Smoking may also help teens to better fit in with other peers. Adolescence is a time when identity is very important; therefore socially smoking may be a way for teens to help establish their peer group. By realizing that teen smoking is at least associated with stress, parents can take steps to help their kids avoid smoking. A good start is to be aware of the stress your child experiences and help him or her cope with that stress. Of course parents must be careful when doing this because their efforts to help may be interpreted by the child as an attempt to control their behavior.
Source: Byrne, D. G. & Mazanov, J. (1999). Sources of Adolescent Stress, Smoking, and the Use of Other Drugs. Stress Medicine, 15, 215-227.