How does loneliness affect smoking?

How does loneliness affect smoking?

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How loneliness affects smoking

Loneliness seems to make it harder for people to quit smoking, and lonely people are more likely to start smoking. Especially in times of COVID-19, this could lead to more people reaching for a cigarette than usual.

A recent investigation, led by the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (TARG) of the School of Psychological Science in Bristol and the Department of Psychiatry at Amsterdam's UMC Hospital in the Netherlands, found that loneliness increases the likelihood of smoking. The results were published in the English language journal "Addiction".

Relationship between loneliness and smoking

The results of numerous studies have already shown that there is a connection between loneliness and substance abuse. However, it was difficult to assess whether loneliness leads to substance abuse or whether substance abuse leads to loneliness, the research group reports.

Study used Mendelian randomization

Using a novel research method (Mendelian randomization), the team found that loneliness apparently increases the likelihood of tobacco use. The method has never been used in this research area. So the current investigation led to completely new results.

How does loneliness affect smoking?

Evidence has been found that loneliness leads to increased smoking or increases the likelihood that people will start smoking, smoke more cigarettes and never quit smoking, the researchers report.

Does COVID-19 lead to more smoking?

The results above also reflect the trends observed during the Covid 19 pandemic. For example, the UK seems to smoke 2.2 million more people than before, the researchers report.

Does smoking promote loneliness?

However, there was also evidence that starting smoking increases loneliness for each individual. “Our view that smoking can lead to more loneliness is tentative, but it is consistent with other recent studies that have identified smoking as a risk factor for poor mental health. A potential mechanism for this relationship is that nicotine from cigarette smoke interferes with neurotransmitters like dopamine in the brain, ”explains lead author Dr. Jorien Treur from UMC Amsterdam in a press release.

Smoking is the main cause of avoidable deaths

Smoking is the main cause of preventable premature death. If lonely people start smoking more often and find it more difficult to quit, they are more likely to suffer damage from smoking, such as serious illnesses such as cancer, heart and respiratory diseases.

People need help quitting smoking

Current research underlines the need to help people quit smoking, especially if they are suffering from loneliness. Such support should not only be aimed at stopping smoking, but should also include reducing loneliness.

Smoking and COVID-19

Knowing if there is a causal effect of loneliness on smoking is the basis to help affected people. And the threat of COVID-19 will increase loneliness in many people. So it is particularly important to understand the connections between smoking behavior and loneliness. "Our study does not address the effects of loneliness and social isolation as a result of the pandemic, but it can shed some light on the consequences of loneliness in general," study author Dr. Robyn Wootton.

Does loneliness increase alcohol consumption?

The team also examined the relationship between loneliness and alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse. However, no clear evidence of a causal relationship could be found. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Study finds evidence that loneliness makes it harder to quit smoking, University of Bristol (Posted Jun 16, 2020), University of Bristol
  • Robyn E. Wootton, Harriet S. R. Greenstone, Abdel Abdellaoui, Damiaan Denys, Karin J. H. Verweij et al .: - directional effects between loneliness, smoking and alcohol use: Evidence from a Mendelian randomization study, in Addiction (published June 15, 2020), Addiction

Video: Loneliness (January 2023).