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Smokers Use Cigarettes to Cope with Stress

Smokers are poorly equipped to deal with distress without resorting to cigarettes because of their implicit belief that smoking helps them to deal with difficult feelings, a conference for psychologists was told yesterday.

Nigel Vahey of NUI Maynooth said research had found that a key psychological component of tobacco-dependence involved the implicit belief that smoking was an effective way of regulating unpalatable feelings.

“In other words, to the degree that smokers implicitly believe that smoking can enhance their enjoyment and reduce their stress levels, then they are more likely to engage in smoking as a means of controlling and coping with fluctuating feelings throughout the day,” he said.

Smoking was used as a way to avoid dealing with painful thoughts and emotions but this was unproductive as it did not make those feelings go away permanently.

Young Smoker“Such people who smoke to regulate their feelings, whether consciously or unconsciously, become very poorly equipped to cope with distress of any sort without recourse to smoking,” Mr Vahey said. This made quitting even more difficult. “Smokers must not only cope with biological cravings for nicotine, but must also learn to cope with distressing feelings in more productive ways.” He said treatment that dealt with this issue was more successful long term than nicotine replacement therapy or other medications.

Mr Vahey was speaking at the Psychological Society of Ireland’s annual conference which ended yesterday in Tullow, Co Carlow. Earlier, the conference heard a call for proper training for juries in cyber-crime cases.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times, LISON HEALY