Young vape users more likely to suffer anxiety and loneliness, study finds

1 March 2024

By Michael Searles, The Telegraph

Researchers analysed a group of young adults and found ‘significantly impacted’ sleep quality and anxiety levels

Young vape users are more likely to suffer from anxiety, loneliness and insomnia, a study of students has found.

Researchers analysed a group of young adults in England and found that vaping“significantly impacts sleep quality and anxiety levels” in young adults.

Experts said vaping in young people could “negatively affect brain development”.

Almost all of the vaping students in the study reported clinically significant symptoms of anxiety.

The study found vapers were 20 per cent more likely to have symptoms of anxiety than those who never used vapes but were no more likely to have symptoms of depression, researchers said.

The participants, who had an average age of 20, were analysed using clinical tests, which included various mental health assessments, their alcohol use and sleep quality.

The results revealed a 15 per cent increase in symptoms of insomnia among regular vape users, with three in four having clinically significant symptoms.

All participants reported on their sleep using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), which measures sleep duration, latency, efficiency and disturbances.

The study, conducted by the University of Surrey, was also the first to assess the impact of vaping on loneliness and rumination, which is the act of repetitive thinking and dwelling on negative feelings. It found that both were more common in the young adults who vaped.

Researchers also found that people who used e-cigarettes drank twice as much alcohol each week as those who did not and had lower levels of self-compassion.

Dr Simon Evans, a neuroscience lecturer at the University of Surrey and study author, said the results found a “disturbing link” between vaping and anxiety.

He was concerned that many young people “are unaware of or simply downplay the dangers of such products, believing that something that tastes ‘fruity’ could not be harmful.”

“This is not the case as the nicotine contained in the products is known to negatively affect brain development and may induce behaviours that increase the risk of developing substance abuse issues,” he said, adding that they had become easily accessible through “vape shops” and other outlets.

“Vaping impacts all areas of physical and mental health. Poor sleep not only affects a young person’s daily functioning but, over the longer term, increases the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes,” Dr Evans said.

Disturbing link

“We found a disturbing link between vape use and anxiety symptoms, and it can become a vicious cycle of using a vape to soothe anxiety but then being unable to sleep, making you feel worse in the long run.”

The study could not determine causation but the researchers suggested that people with anxiety may be more likely to “self-medicate” by vaping, and that action to improve mindfulness, and reduce rumination and loneliness, may make people less likely to take up vaping.

The number of people of all ages who use vapes has grown rapidly over the last decade to around five million.

Around 11 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds regularly use vapes, according to charity Action on Smoking and Health, while eight per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds do.

As many as one in five secondary school children has used a vape, ASH said, rising to two in five among 18-year-olds.

The Government has introduced a ban on the sale and supply of disposable vapes, as well as restricting the flavours available and making packaging plain, because of evidence that fruity flavours and colourful packets deliberately appeal to children and young people.

The authors acknowledged the study had limitations, analysing 316 students, including just 49 who regularly used a vape, and the majority of participants being women.

It was published in the Healthcare journal.