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Report Links Teen Smoking, Depression

Teenage Smokers May Also Be at Greater Risk for Alcohol and Drug Abuse
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 23, 2007 -- Smoking cigarettes may make teens more susceptible to depression, alcohol abuse, and illegal drug use, a new report states.

Based on data from a government drug use survey, researchers concluded that teens who smoke are nine times more likely to abuse alcohol and 13 times more likely to abuse illegal drugs than teens who don't smoke.

The report "Tobacco: The Smoking Gun" was released today by the Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), led by former U.S. Health, Education and Welfare commissioner Joseph A. Califano Jr.

The report was funded by the anti-tobacco group Citizen's Commission to Protect the Truth.

"The message is clear," Califano tells WebMD. "If your kid is smoking, you better be alert to the much greater likelihood that he or she also may be abusing alcohol or illegal drugs."

Teen Smokers at Risk

Despite decades of warnings about the dangers of smoking, every day an estimated 4,000 teens in the United States light up a cigarette for the first time.

Califano says the report was issued to make parents, teachers, and physicians aware that the dangers of teen smoking are immediate as well as long-term.

According to the CASA analysis, twice as many teen smokers as nonsmokers suffer symptoms of depression.

Smoking at a young age has also been linked to panic attacks and general anxiety disorders in some studies, the report notes.

While the research falls short of proving that smoking is a cause of depression and other mental illness, Califano says the evidence is pointing in that direction.

"Smoking is clearly linked to substance abuse and depression, and this report shows that the statistical relationship is very powerful," he says.

Based on the government's 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the CASA analysis shows that:

  • Teenage smokers between the ages of 12 and 17 are five times more likely to drink alcohol and nine times more likely to meet the medical criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence as teens who don't smoke.
  • Teens who smoke are 13 times more likely to use marijuana than nonsmoking teens.
  • Teens who smoke are more than twice as likely to have suffered from symptoms of depression over the course of a year.

The earlier a child begins smoking, the greater the risk, Califano says. Compared to children who never smoked, children who start smoking before age 13 are three times as likely to binge drink, 15 times as likely to use marijuana, and seven times more likely to use other illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine.

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