The Concerning Connection Between Vaping & Mental Health
Electronic Vapor Devices (EVPs), also called vapes, e-cigarettes, and mods, are battery-powered devices that convert liquid nicotine into vapor, which is inhaled by the user. Often marketed as a safer, stress relieving alternative to cigarettes, they are available in hundreds of appealing flavors and designs. As with other drugs, nicotine is highly addictive and negatively impacts the developing brain, more specifically areas that control memory, mood, and impulse control. Unfortunately, many young people are unaware there is nicotine in vape products and once they do realize it, they’ve already developed a dependency.
More troubling is how these products are being linked to poor mental health.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, youth reporting poor mental health doubled. While some youth turn to nicotine products to cope, it may actually make things worse, as vape use has the potential to amplify existing depressive symptoms. Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include irritability, anxiousness, and depression: symptoms that are temporarily relieved by using a vape or other nicotine product. As nicotine concentrations increase, so does the product’s addictiveness. Higher potency puts youth at a greater risk of dependency and lower motivation to quit. A recent study showed that from 2017-2022, nicotine potency in disposable vape products nearly tripled in strength. At the same time, prices dropped by almost 70%!
The 2021 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed that 32% percent of high school students in the state in VT use an EVP because they want to get high or a buzz; 30% use because they feel anxious or stressed; and 13% use because they are curious about them. Nearly 60% of students report it’s “very easy” or “sort of easy” to obtain vapes. Among current users, nearly two-thirds got products from friends or family while about one in eight current users either bought or took them from a store or got them online. The results also show that female and LGBTQ+ students are significantly more likely than their male and heterosexual cisgender peers to use vape products and report poor mental health.
How you can help
Connection is key. When youth have trusted adults in their lives, have access to basic needs, and feel connected to their school and community, they are less likely to experience poor mental health and substance misuse.
Parents and caring adults should talk openly and often with kids about their mental health and the harms associated with vape use. Listen to their perceptions of substance-use, current trends, and social norms. Take time to learn together about the vape industry’s marketing tactics and environmental impact and what our communities can do on a local level to create healthier spaces. Support your child wanting to quit nicotine with teen-centered cessation resources available through MyLife, MyQuit and the Truth Initiative. To learn more, visit the Vaping Resource Portal from The Collaborative and be sure to reach out to your child’s school prevention officer or health teacher. Mental health support options from ACT can be found here.
Dare Chammings is the Director of Alliance for Community Transformations (ACT), a Bennington-based substance misuse prevention coalition focused on supporting Bennington-area youth in making healthy choices.