Researchers have identified a specific emotion linked to tobacco addiction

The comprehensive meta-analysis came to the conclusion that sadness, more than any other negative emotion, increased the desire to smoke and the risk of relapse

Do negative emotions such as sadness, stress or anxiety encourage the use of addictive substances such as tobacco? A meta-analysis conducted by researchers at Harvard University in the United States set out to examine this question.

One of the most common resolutions for the new year, quitting smoking is, however, far from easy. But what exactly makes people want to light a cigarette, even after having given up for years? 

In this latest research project, which has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy Sciences, researchers from Harvard University analyzed four studies on the issue to see if certain negative emotions such as stress, upset, anger or sadness could amplify tobacco addiction. 

The project notably analyzed data from an American national survey of more than 10,000 people over a 20-year period and laboratory tests examining the reactions of smokers to negative emotions. All of the four research studies reviewed came to the same conclusion: sadness, more than any other negative emotion, increases the desire to smoke and the risk of relapse a decade or two after having given up.

"The conventional wisdom in the field was that any type of negative feelings, whether it's anger, disgust, stress, sadness, fear, or shame, would make individuals more likely to use an addictive drug," remarked the lead author of the study Charles A. Dorison, who added that these latest results suggest "the reality is much more nuanced."

Jennifer Lerner, co-founder of the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory and co-author of the study, believes that the data described in the project could have useful implications for public health prevention policies. For example, current anti-smoking awareness campaigns could be redesigned to avoid images that may cause sadness and thus inadvertently increase the desire to smoke among cigarette users.