With isolation, shielding and quarantine there’s been a frightening increase in the number of people feeling lonely, brought on or made worse by the pandemic. In fact, there’s been an epidemic of loneliness. According to the Office for National Statistics, the equivalent of 7.4 million people said their wellbeing was affected through feeling lonely in the first month of lockdown.
Lonely people were also more likely to be struggling to find things that would help them cope and were also less likely to feel they had support networks to fall back on. Loneliness is awful and dangerous. For one thing it weakens self-control and that, University of Bristol researchers have found, makes quitting smoking very difficult.
Moreover, data from hundreds of thousands of people led Dr Robyn Wootton, senior research associate at Bristol University and colleagues to conclude that loneliness appears to increase the need to smoke. She said: “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.”
Senior author Dr Jorien Treur from Amsterdam UMC added: “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.”
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of pressure group ASH, said: “If lonely people are more likely to start smoking and find it harder to quit, they are more likely to suffer the harm caused by smoking. This research highlights the need for smokers suffering from loneliness to be given support to stop, to improve not just their health and wellbeing but also to help them in their loneliness.”
Dr Wootton said with millions of people now being more socially isolated, incidences of loneliness will climb. “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,” she said.
To ease your loneliness and improve your chances of succeeding in quitting I think one of the best things you can do is to find a “buddy” who’ll try to give up smoking with you. Together you can compare notes, share progress, talk through difficulties, negotiate cravings and bolster each other to keep on going when all you want is to give in and fall off the wagon.