Stress and Smoking Among Adolescents
Among adults, it is well known that stress is related to smoking. Unfortunately, very little attention has been given to the relation between stress and smoking among adolescents. In an attempt to address this shortcoming, researchers at The Australian National University recently reported their findings from a study that examined the relations between stress, smoking, and the use of alcohol and other drugs among adolescents. The participants in the study were in the 10th or 11th grade, years in which many adolescents go through a potentially stressful transition from high school to college or the job market. The goals of the study were (a) to look at the association between stress and smoking among adolescents, (b) to look at the role of specific sources of adolescent stress, and (c) to see whether stress is related not only to smoking but also to the use of alcohol and other drugs.
Overall, they found that some sources of stress among adolescents relate to both smoking and other substances. The associations between stress and smoking were generally stronger than they were between stress and other substances, and these associations involved a greater number of the individual sources of stress for girls than they did for boys. One source of stress in particular, school attendance, clearly differentiated boys and girls in terms of smoking. School attendance represented compulsory school attendance, boredom at school, excessive hours in school, insufficient time for leisure, discipline, and enforced concentration. Additionally, the association between stress and smoking was stronger than the association between stress and other substances.
Although smoking is stimulating biologically, it seemed somehow to serve as a stress reliever. The researchers offer two explanations for why this apparent paradox may occur among adolescents. First, smoking may allow adolescents to briefly distract themselves and shift their attention away from sources of their stress. Second, being known as a "smoker" by peers may improve how adolescents see themselves by making them feel more "grown-up."
Source: Byrne, D. G., Mazanov, J. (1999). Sources of adolescent stress, smoking and the use of other drugs. Stress Medicine, 15, 215-227.