Another link has been found between prolonged bouts of loneliness and smoking, researchers have said.
Genetic and survey data from hundreds of thousands of people were used to generate the study findings produced by a team from the University of Bristol.
Co-author Dr Robyn Wootton said: “This method has never been applied to this question before and so the results are novel, but also tentative.
“We found evidence to suggest that loneliness leads to increased smoking, with people more likely to start smoking, to smoke more cigarettes, and to be less likely to quit.”
The findings suggested that loneliness not only increased the chances of someone starting to smoke, but also increased the number of cigarettes they smoked on a daily basis. Those who felt lonely were also less likely to give up.
These trends reflect other findings that have been collected via the YouGov’s Covid-19 tracker over the course of the pandemic, which has shown that 2.2 million people in the UK are now smoking more than they did before the lockdown.
This study was a collaboration between the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (TARG) at the university and the department of Psychiatry of Amsterdam University Medical Center (UMC) hospital in the Netherlands.
The teams also found evidence to suggest that smoking can impact someone’s mental health.
Senior author Dr Jorien Treur from the UMC, said: “Our finding that smoking may also lead to more loneliness is tentative, but it is in line with other recent studies that identified smoking as a risk factor for poor mental health.
“A potential mechanism for this relationship is that nicotine from cigarette smoke interferes with neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain.”
Understanding reasons why people might start smoking, or resist giving up, might help improve services and treatment to encourage people to give up.
Dr Wootton added: “Suddenly, the whole of the UK has become more socially isolated than ever before, and for many people this will likely increase their loneliness. We were really interested to find that loneliness decreases the likelihood of stopping smoking and we think this is a really important consideration for those trying to stop smoking during the pandemic.
“We are still yet to see the full effects of the coronavirus pandemic on alcohol and cigarette use in the UK. Whilst our study does not look at the effects of loneliness and social isolation as the result of the pandemic, it can shed some light on the consequences of loneliness in general.”