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Nicotine, Vaping, and Anxiety: What You Need to Know

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Table of Contents

What is nicotine?

Nicotine, found in tobacco products such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco, is one of the top five most addictive drugs in the world. It is also the active ingredient in the e-liquid of most e-cigarettes, also referred to as “vapes.”
Regardless of the way it’s consumed, nicotine, in general, has been associated with the development and exacerbation of mental health symptoms, particularly anxiety and depression.

What are e-cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes, commonly referred to as “vapes” or “e-cigs,” are battery-powered devices that deliver vapor to users by heating a liquid solution containing nicotine, also known as e-liquid. E-cigarettes come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and flavors. Due to their increasing popularity, e-cigarettes are widely available throughout the country and are the most commonly used nicotine products among youth in America.
While vapes are perceived by many to be safer than traditional nicotine products such as cigarettes, studies have shown that vapes often can contain a much higher nicotine concentration than any other tobacco product, raising major concerns over the mental and physical wellness of vape users. Furthermore, vape use has been linked to severe medical conditions such as popcorn lung and even collapsed lungs, according to medical professionals at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

What is anxiety?

While there are many different types of anxiety disorders, several of them share similar symptoms and characteristics. An anxiety disorder can be characterized by persistent worrying or fears surrounding typical everyday situations, leading to a lack of or reduced functioning in individuals’ lives. Anxiety can lead to racing thoughts, intense feelings of terror, fear, or even a sense of impending doom.
Sometimes these anxious thoughts and feelings can become so intense they result in what are known as panic attacks. A panic attack is a debilitating wave of intense fear, often quickly followed by uncomfortable physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, and hyperventilation. People experiencing panic attacks might feel a sense of complete loss of control or, in some cases, might even feel they are near death.
Other common psychological symptoms of anxiety disorders may include:
  • Persistent worrying or fears
  • Rapid thinking
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dissociative episodes

What is anxiety?

While there are many different types of anxiety disorders, several of them share similar symptoms and characteristics. An anxiety disorder can be characterized by persistent worrying or fears surrounding typical everyday situations, leading to a lack of or reduced functioning in individuals’ lives. Anxiety can lead to racing thoughts, intense feelings of terror, fear, or even a sense of impending doom.
Sometimes these anxious thoughts and feelings can become so intense they result in what are known as panic attacks. A panic attack is a debilitating wave of intense fear, often quickly followed by uncomfortable physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, and hyperventilation. People experiencing panic attacks might feel a sense of complete loss of control or, in some cases, might even feel they are near death.
Other common psychological symptoms of anxiety disorders may include:
  • Persistent worrying or fears
  • Rapid thinking
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dissociative episodes

Physical effects of anxiety

While anxiety is a psychological disorder, it often presents with a variety of physical symptoms as well. As mentioned, these physical sensations can become exacerbated if one’s anxiety escalates to the level of panic. There have been many documented cases of people being admitted to hospitals over suspected heart attacks or other cardiac episodes, only to find they were experiencing panic attacks.
Common physical symptoms of anxiety disorders may include:
  • Increased heart rate or heart palpitations
  • Increased sweating
  • Shaking
  • Stomach pain or nausea
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Chest pain
  • Back pain

Nicotine and anxiety

The relationship between anxiety and nicotine is cyclical. People may lean on nicotine products such as vapes or cigarettes as a crutch to alleviate stress or the immediate symptoms of anxiety, only to find their anxiety has become worse later on. This may be especially true for young people, whose developing brains are even more vulnerable to the detrimental and lasting effects of nicotine use.
A 2019 study found anxiety to be a significant risk factor for nicotine use later in life, meaning those who are already prone to anxiety are also more likely to consume nicotine products and become nicotine dependent. Furthermore, the same study found that adolescents and young adults who were nicotine dependent, including daily cigarette smokers or vapers, were at a higher risk of experiencing anxiety than those who were not nicotine dependent.
While being a significant risk factor for future anxiety disorders, nicotine use can also make it more difficult for individuals to recover from their anxiety. A 2012 study found that nicotine users suffering from anxiety and depression improved at a slower rate over a two-year period than those that did not use nicotine.

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