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Mental Health and Nicotine Resources

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Youth Mental Health and Nicotine Use

Two health crises among youth — a mental health crisis and a vaping public health crisis — pose increasing threats to a generation of young people. They are also linked in ways many may not realize, according to a body of peer-reviewed studies.

While it is well known that nicotine harms developing brains, including by making young people more susceptible to addiction, lesser known are the worrying connections between nicotine and mental health. Though nicotine has not been found to directly cause mental health conditions and more research is needed, numerous peer-reviewed studies reveal troubling links, including clearly established research that shows nicotine can worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Colliding Crises: Youth Mental Health and Nicotine Use

Research shows several connections between nicotine and mental health:

  • Vaping nicotine can intensify symptoms of depression and anxiety and increase stress levels.
  • Current e-cigarette users have double the odds of having a diagnosis of depression compared to those who have never vaped, according to a 2019 JAMA study of nearly 30,000 current e-cigarette users. Frequent vaping is tied to even higher odds (2.4x) of having a diagnosis of depression compared to never users.
  • Using e-cigarettes can worsen symptoms of depression, based on the results of a study of nearly 2,500 ninth graders who had never previously used e-cigarettes or combustible tobacco.
  • Using e-cigarettes at a higher frequency was associated with higher depressive symptoms — including feeling sad or having crying spells — a year later.
  • Current e-cigarette users had 1.67 times higher odds and former e-cigarette users had 1.52 times higher odds of reporting at least 1 day of poor mental health in the past month compared to never users.
  • Trace metals found in vape liquid may play a role in the potential link between vaping and depression.
  • Vaping is significantly associated with higher levels of ADHD symptoms, based on a 2019 study of college students. Using e-cigarettes as an adult also had nearly twice the odds of association with cognitive complaints — having serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions — compared to those who had never used e-cigarettes.

Support for those experiencing mental health concerns

Many resources exist for those concerned about their mental health, including immediate help for people experiencing crises:

  • Mental Health America offers an online mental health screening. The tests can help determine whether people are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition.
  • The Suicide Prevention Lifeline connects callers to trained crisis counselors 24/7. They also provide a chat function on their website. Phone: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • 24/7 Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741741 from anywhere in the U.S. to connect with a volunteer crisis counselor by text.
  • The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a national network of crisis centers that provides 24/7, free, confidential support to people experiencing emotional distress or suicidal crisis. Call or text 988 now to be connected to a trained counselor.

Thrive: A Youth Mental-Health Summit

A rebroadcast of our panel at The Atlantic Festival that draws awareness to the connection between nicotine use and the worsening youth mental health crisis. In this latest Impact Series event, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and former vaper turned activist Daniel Ament join Truth Initiative CEO and President Robin Koval to highlight well-established research that shows nicotine both harms developing brains and can negatively affect mental health by worsening symptoms of anxiety and depression.