Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Smoking Doubles Risk of PTSD

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a major problem in soldiers returning from war, those exposed to domestic violence, and those exposed to serious accidents or injuries from any cause.  Now there is evidence that some of the problems may be preventable.
Smoking doubles risk of post-traumatic stress

18:31 08 November 2005
NewScientist.com news service
Gaia Vince

Smokers are twice as likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder than non-smokers , according to a study of twin soldiers.

It is estimated that after experiencing severe trauma, about one-third of people go on to suffer , a mental illness characterised by anxiety, flashbacks and panic attacks.

Nicotine dependence has been associated with PTSD before, but the exact nature of the link has never been clear. The new study establishes smoking as a key risk factor in pre-disposing people to PTSD. [...]

“Nicotine stimulates some of the same neurobiological pathways – the dopaminergic pathway associated with reward and fear – implicated in stress and addiction,” Koenen told New Scientist. “Smoking may sensitise these pathways, so a subsequent severe stressor is more likely to give someone PTSD.”

Koenen does not know “whether giving up smoking makes the increased risk go away”. Nevertheless, she suggests the military conducts smoking cessation and anti-smoking programmes and pays special attention to caring for soldiers with a history of nicotine dependence who are deployed in combat situations.

The researchers also found that people exposed to trauma, whether or not they developed PTSD, were more likely to take up smoking.

Journal reference: Archives of General Psychiatry (vol 62, p 1258)
Of course, this does not actually prove that getting people to quit smoking would decrease the incidence of posttraumatic stress problems, but it is highly suggestive.  Of course, it does not really add any new information, in that we already know that everyone who smokes ought to quit, in order to minimize health risks.  On the other hand, it could suggest lines of research into the pathophysiology of the problems, which could turn out to be interesting.