Maryland's Tobacco Resource Center - Linking Professionals to Best Practices

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

In the last decade, the United States has experienced a series of man-made and natural disasters. Large numbers of people in this country have been exposed to potentially traumatic events

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental and emotional illness that typically develops following an extremely frightening, life-threatening, or highly unsafe experience. Sufferers of this disorder tend to re-experience the traumatic event, or the emotions associated with it, in some way long after the event has ended.1 To minimize the prevalence of these reoccurring thoughts, people with PTSD tend to avoid other people, places, or things that would remind them of the event.2 Excessive avoidance could increase other symptoms including anxiety and irritability which, in turn, could increase the risk of developing more negative symptoms, or in some cases, the development of depression or additional anxiety disorders.1

Diagnosed with PTSDPercent
U.S. population6.4
Current smokers45.3
Lifetime smokers63.3

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Smoking

Individuals diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder tend to report higher levels of stress and anxiety than the general population even months after the traumatizing experience.3 Forcibly having to repetitively relive the memories on a daily basis will have lingering effects on the mental and emotional health of the individual. This is the harsh reality for over 21 million Americans currently diagnosed with PTSD. Roughly one out of every two individuals diagnosed with PTSD are active smokers and over six out of every ten have smoked at some point in their lives. An association between PTSD and smoking may indicate the use of tobacco, specifically nicotine, to help alleviate many of the negative symptoms associated with PTSD.4 Although the link between PTSD and smoking is not direct, a third variable is believed to be the connection between the two. Recent studies have shown a moderate correlation between nicotine dependence and post-traumatic stress disorder as well as a strong correlation between PTSD and depression. Depression and nicotine dependence are also highly correlated.4 In addition, within the population of smokers, a strong positive correlation was found between a diagnosis of PTSD and heavy smoking tendencies.4 It would seem according to this research that while the relationship between smoking and PTSD is still not entirely understood, there is some preliminary data to suggest that it is used to help relieve symptoms. Whatever the reason, this population is at increased risk due to their use of tobacco.

 

References: 
  1. Bisson J, Andrew M. Psychological treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2007;3:CD003388.
  2. National Institute of Mental Health. (2010, August 31). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Retrieved September 14, 2011, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disord...
  3. Anxiety Disorders Association of America (2011). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Retrieved September 14, 2011, from http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-...
  4. Frances P. Thorndike, Rachel Wernicke, Michelle Y. Pearlman, et al. 2006. Nicotine dependence, PTSD symptoms, and depression proneness, among male and female smokers. Retrieved September 14, 2011, from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov