Research suggests that vaping may contribute to depression and other mental health conditions. Here’s what we know.

Vapes and e-cigarettes have grown in popularity since they reached the U.S. market over 15 years ago. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has voiced numerous concerns about their safety through the years, especially with regard to adolescents.

Around 37% of 12th grade students reported vaping at least once in 2017, according to a survey done by Monitoring the Future. Vaping is more attractive to kids than smoking cigarettes because of the flavors and colors, yet vapes can be just as addictive.

While vaping is especially concerning for adolescents, the effect of vaping on mental health and addiction is a concern for all age groups. Worldwide depression rates continue to climb while emerging research shows that vaping is a likely contributing factor.

Addictions are hard to quit, but there are ways to cease the habit and cope with depressive symptoms.

So how is vaping associated with depression? The answer may not surprise you, as it ultimately boils down to nicotine exposure.

Mental health experts believe that depression is related to altered levels of mood-regulating chemicals in the body. These include dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.

Most vapes contain nicotine, which stimulates dopamine reward pathways in your brain. The increased release of dopamine then has a positive effect on your mood.

However, these positive effects are short-lived and the result over time can actually be a worsened mood.

A 2016 study examined the effects of vaping and depressive symptoms in adolescents over 1 year. The study noted the following:

  • Adolescents with depressive symptoms were more likely to use vapes and cigarettes.
  • Prolonged use of vapes was associated with faster development of depressive symptoms.
  • Vapes are perceived as less harmful and more socially acceptable than cigarettes.

A similar but much larger 2019 study examined the same relationship in adults over 18 years.

According to the study, current and former vape users were more likely to report past depression than those who had never used vapes. In addition, those who used vapes more often were more likely to report depressive symptoms.

Aside from depression, vapes and their nicotine-rich cartridges can affect your mental health in other ways. Namely, they might prevent you from developing healthy coping mechanisms.

If you tend to experience anxiety, for example, it’s common to reach for nicotine as a coping mechanism.

A 2019 study showed that those who vaped were more likely to have:

But the negative effects of vaping on mental health conditions aren’t necessarily due to the nicotine. Vaping may serve as a replacement for what could be a healthier coping mechanism or may delay people from seeking treatment.

It can seem like an easy fix to reach for a vape as a means of managing your anxiety or other mental health conditions — but it’s important to consider that addressing your underlying mental health condition with substances can lead to an overall worsening of symptoms over time or an addiction.

Be persistent

The most troublesome part of vaping and smoking cigarettes is often the nicotine addiction. Ceasing the use of nicotine can be difficult, and some find it easier than others.

You may find that you can cease the habit in as few as six separate quitting attempts, according to a 2016 study. Yet, you may also find that it takes somewhere between 20 and 30 different attempts to quit.

If this is your first time trying to quit, remember to be patient. It can take some time, but the more motivated you are, the more effort you’re likely to make toward quitting.

Consider nicotine replacement therapy

If you’ve been smoking for a long time, this can be a helpful option to reduce cravings. Nicotine replacement therapy is recognized as an effective means of managing cravings.

Nicotine delivery devices, such as patches, inhalers, and sprays are primary methods. Chewing gum and lozenges can also be helpful especially if you have an oral fixation.

Learn more about the best apps to help you quit smoking.

Try to avoid triggers

If you have a group of friends who all smoke cigarettes, vapes, or both, it can be very difficult to quit. If you’re seriously considering quitting, it may help to spend more time away from the group or make a point of not going outside with them when they smoke.

Avoiding your triggers may also come down to addressing underlying conditions, such as anxiety or depressive mood. If you find yourself vaping when you’re worried, then anxiety treatment may reduce your dependence on vapes.

Ceasing a vaping habit can be difficult, but getting educated about the risks and making an attempt are the first steps to ceasing the habit. With the right strategy, you can find success in quitting vaping.

There are several resources available to help you in your journey to quit vaping:

  • CDC: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers several resources that can serve as a good starting point.
  • Smokefree: Smokefree offers helpful resources, information, and action steps.
  • SAMHSA: You can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helpline at 1-800-662-4357. This is a free, confidential, 24/7 treatment referral and information service available in English and Spanish.
  • Drugs and Me: Drugs and Me provides a detailed list of educational materials for different types of substance use.
  • APA: The American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator can help you find a psychologist to help you manage your mental health condition.

To learn more about substance use and find more resources, you can visit Psych Central’s addiction and substance use disorders resource hub.

If you’re looking for a therapist but aren’t sure where to start, consider checking out Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource.