Does Vaping Cause Anxiety? The Dangers of Nicotine and Mental Health

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC
5/30/2024

After years of campaigning and educating on the negative effects of cigarettes and nicotine, the usage of them has significantly dropped. Many of the middle aged to older generations have ceased the use of cigarettes, and the younger generations are not picking up the habit.

 However, the throne cigarettes have fallen from did not sit empty for long. It has been claimed by a new ruler giving the people their nicotine fix—vapes.

Vapes, or electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes, are primarily used among teens and young adults. Within the United States, approximately 3.6 million youths currently use e-cigarettes. 

What is Vaping?

E-cigarettes, or vapes, are battery powered disposable or non disposable devices that heat a liquid solution within the device that typically contains nicotine turning it into an aerosol, or vapor, for the user to inhale. Some vapes do not list nicotine as an ingredient however, a CDC study found that 99% of e-cigarettes contain nicotine

In addition to nicotine, the liquid that is turned into vapor can contain other chemicals and flavorings.  E-cigarette users are inhaling the vapor and people around them when they use the device may also be inhaling it when they exhale. In states where it’s legal, cannabis vapes can be sold at dispensaries.   

Why Has Vaping Become So Popular?

Vapes have not been around a particularly long time, yet they are already incredibly popular and widespread. Due to packaging and accessibility, they have always been extraordinarily popular to teens and young adults. 

Many of those people, kids especially, may be completely unaware of the harmful effects using e-cigarettes can have on one's physical and mental health. Most e-cigarette users aged 15-24 are unaware that they even contain nicotine

Reasons People Start Vaping

The health effects of vaping aren’t fully studied. Health professionals suspect some kind of harm. So why do people even start the habit? Some reasons people pick up vaping are:

  

  • Many people believe vaping to be less harmful than smoking cigarettes
  • Peer pressure 
  • They vape in order to quit smoking traditional cigarettes
  • The lack of smoke reduces the negative stigma surrounding smoking
  • Better tasting than cigarettes
  • They find vapes help “take the edge off” (reduce anxiety, depression, pressure)
  • They don’t think they will get addicted 
  • Experimentation

Whatever the reason people use them, vaping is only gaining momentum. Consumers can find them at any gas station or market, just like cigarettes.  

Vaping vs. Smoking

There is a negative stigma surrounding the use of traditional cigarettes that is not attached to vaping. There is no smoke that lingers on your clothes or in your hair. If someone doesn’t see you vape, they may never know it is something you partake in doing. The combination of this and the belief that vaping is a healthier alternative to using other tobacco products has led to its rise in popularity.

The successful anti-smoking campaigns that started in the 90s caused the sale of cigarettes to fall off. In 2003, vapes hit the market, and quickly replaced traditional cigarettes as the oral fixation of choice for many.

Does Vaping Cause Anxiety?

In short, vaping can lead to anxiety. Research has shown that nicotine increases feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s not a reach for scientists to say that vaping contributes to anxiety because of the nicotine content. The amount of nicotine in a vape varies, but many are packed with more nicotine than cigarettes. 

Many people use e-cigarettes to self-medicate in order to cope with anxiety, primarily. Many users say taking a few hits on a vape helps them deal with general and social anxiety. However, studies in more recent years have found the use of e-cigarettes does not help improve anxiety, but rather vaping is likely contributing to anxiety symptoms. In fact, vaping can also lead to an increase in ADHD symptoms and impulsiveness. 

Understanding Anxiety

Very simply, anxiety is when our brains go into overdrive. We're biologically wired to respond to threats with increased heart rates, tense muscles, and hypervigilance - all caused by increased chemical messages within the brain. When we're in physical danger, these responses are necessary. When we're not, we feel anxious.

One of the reasons that nicotine leads to anxiety often is because nicotine acts as a stimulant. It increases these chemical messages, causing the physical response of anxiety.

Nicotine Addiction and Vaping Addiction 

E-cigarettes hit the market and became popular before the effects of them were researched and known. The effects of vaping on both physical and mental health is still being discovered today. 

The Dangers of Nicotine

Nicotine is one of the most popular drugs in the world. It’s among the top five most addictive drugs in the world today. What vape users don’t often realize is that e-cigarettes contain a significant amount of nicotine. Stopping after partaking for some time can lead to the same nicotine withdrawal symptoms that cigarette users experience when they quit.

Nicotine can negatively affect parts of your brain that are associated with mood, attention, impulse control, and learning. This is especially concerning considering vapes containing nicotine are largely used by youth and young adults whose brains are still developing making them more susceptible to mental health and addiction problems in the short and long-term. 

Nicotine and Mental Health

While so many reach for their vape to relieve stress and anxiety, what it is actually doing is amplifying it. Vaping is a maladaptive coping mechanism that turns into a vicious cycle. A puff from a vape can temporarily ease those feelings of stress and anxiety, but they will quickly return and as you get hooked on the nicotine buzz you can then need to vape in order to relieve the stress of not vaping. 

Can nicotine cause depression? Nicotine changes the way dopamine travels through the brain and can increase symptoms of depression. The reliance on nicotine can increase sensitivity to stress and alter the coping mechanisms within the brain altogether. 

Quitting is the Best Thing for Your Anxiety

Though we are still furiously researching all of the health problems associated with vaping, there is no denying the are physical and mental health issues tied to its use. Studies have shown the negative physical effects and the high concentration of nicotine within most e-cigarettes that leads to dependence also leads to decreased mental health.

Picking up this habit has been shown to not only heighten feelings of anxiety and depression, but also slow the rate of recovery improvement from these feelings. If you have been struggling with anxiety or depression, it may be time to put the vape down and try evidence-based approaches to improve your mental health. 

Get Help With Your Nicotine Addiction

Here at Inner Balance Counseling we have effective, individualized counseling to help you manage those feelings of anxiety, depression, addiction, and anything else you may be experiencing in a healthy, sustainable way. We can help free yourself from the tight grip e-cigarettes have on so many. Contact us today to start your journey to a happier, healthier you.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC
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