Recently reported evidence from a team of American researchers indicates that an increased sensitivity to anxiety may reduce the odds that women in residential substance treatment will halt their intake of cigarettes and thereby lower their chances of dying.
People receiving treatment for substance problems smoke cigarettes at an unusually high rate and actually have higher chances of dying from smoking-related causes than from alcohol- or drug-related causes. In a study published in early 2015 in the journal Substance Use & Misuse, researchers from the University of Maryland sought to determine if men and women with a high level of sensitivity to anxiety have reduced chances of quitting smoking while in residential substance treatment. These researchers found that anxiety levels have a smoking-related impact on women but not on men.
Smoking and Substance Treatment
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that slightly less than 18 percent of American adults smoke cigarettes at least some of the time. Most smokers are habitual consumers addicted to nicotine, tobacco’s primary mind-altering ingredient. A second federal agency called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that people affected by alcohol use disorder (alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism) smoke cigarettes more than twice as often as the general population. Rates of cigarette use are even higher in people affected by drug abuse/addiction and in people with overlapping drug and alcohol problems. Crucially, the highest recorded rate of smoking in people with substance problems appears in those individuals who seek help at a facility dedicated to drug or alcohol treatment.
Figures compiled by SAMHSA indicate that slightly more than half of all people in treatment for drug or alcohol problems die from smoking-related causes, not causes associated with their diagnosed substance issues. In fact, the rate of smoking-related death in substance treatment is roughly 50 percent higher than the rate of drug- or alcohol-related death. In addition, a person in substance treatment dies from a smoking-related cause roughly 100 percent more often than the average adult not in substance treatment. Treatment programs sometimes avoid dealing with cigarette use; however, current evidence shows that such programs can effectively address smoking-related issues without decreasing the usefulness of drug or alcohol treatment.
Essentially all human beings feel anxious (i.e., fearful, tense, nervous, etc.) in certain circumstances. However, not all situations produce the same level of anxiety in all individuals. In addition, not all people have the same ability to cope with momentary or ongoing anxiety without experiencing a negative mental health impact. Psychologists and psychiatrists sometimes use the term anxiety sensitivity to refer to any given person’s relative tendency to react badly to potentially anxiety-inducing circumstances. People with a high level of anxiety sensitivity may have substantially increased chances of developing the symptoms of a diagnosable anxiety disorder such as panic disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, specific phobia or generalized anxiety disorder.
Impact of Women’s Sensitivity to Anxiety
In the study published in Substance Use & Misuse, the University of Maryland researchers used a project involving 472 adults to help determine if gender-specific sensitivity to anxiety has an impact on the odds that any given person in substance treatment will stop smoking cigarettes. All of the project participants were smokers receiving residential treatment for problems with drugs and/or alcohol. The researchers made an assessment of the anxiety sensitivity of each individual. In addition, they measured smoking cessation odds in terms of the baseline motivation to stop using cigarettes. The researchers also looked at each person’s actual level of daily cigarette consumption before entering programs that restrict or ban smoking.
The researchers concluded that anxiety sensitivity is not substantially linked to men’s motivation to stop using cigarettes while in residential substance treatment. However, sensitivity to anxiety does play an important role in women’s motivation to stop smoking while in substance treatment, and women highly sensitive to anxiety may experience a roughly 21 percent decline in their desire to halt cigarette use while dealing with drug or alcohol problems.
The study’s authors believe their findings demonstrate the importance of gender-specific anxiety on the odds that smoking cessation will occur during residential substance treatment. They also believe their findings demonstrate the importance of customizing the approaches used to address ongoing cigarette use in women and men receiving treatment for alcohol- or drug-related issues.