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Teens who struggle with mental health issues have a higher risk of using e-cigarettes and becoming addicted to vaping, according to the findings of a new study.
In a report published this month in the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers from Johns Hopkins and Duke University found that teens who suffer from a variety of mental health issues face a greater risk of vaping addiction, due to the high levels of nicotine found in the electronic cigarettes.
During adolescence, mental health issues may increase the likelihood of a teen trying smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes, according to previous studies, but there was no research into whether that risk transferred to using electronic cigarettes, according to the study’s authors.
Researchers analyzed data for participants from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study, a nationally representative longitudinal study of U.S. adolescents followed from 2013 to 2015. The study included 7,700 teens, ages 12 to 17, who reported no lifetime use of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
Mental health issues include both externalizing and internalizing issues. Externalizing problems include issues like rebelliousness and sensation seeking. Internalizing problems are mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Researchers focused on teen mental health issues and associated internalizing and externalizing problems and use of e-cigarettes.
Compared to teens with low externalizing mental health issues, teens with high externalizing mental health issues were significantly more likely to start using e-cigarettes, traditional cigarettes or both.
Teens with high internalizing problems were at increased risk of vaping, but not at an increased risk of using traditional cigarettes.
In the new study, teens with high externalizing mental health issues are more likely to use any form of tobacco including vaping, traditional cigarettes or both.
However, teens who use just e-cigarettes are more likely to have internalizing problems. Researchers suggest vaping is a way for teens to self-medicate for anxiety, depression, and related issues rather than simply trying something that is trendy or giving in to peer pressure.
However, it can work both ways. Teens with mental health problems are more likely to start vaping, but teens who start vaping have an increased risk of developing mental health problems.
“Mental health problems are associated with increased risk for initiating e-cigarette, combustible cigarette, and dual-product use in adolescence,” the researchers concluded. “This association is more consistent for externalizing problems than internalizing problems. Addressing mental health problems could be a promising target for preventing initiation of nicotine- and/or tobacco-product use by adolescents.”