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Study finds rise in binge drinking, depression and pot use among former smokers

Rates of depression, cannabis use and binge drinking are on the rise among former smokers, a new study says.

Researchers found that the percentage of former smokers who admitted to suffering from depression in the past year increased from 4.88 percent to 6.04 percent from 2002 to 2016. 

Meanwhile rates of marijuana use nearly doubled from more than five percent to more than 10 percent and alcohol binge drinking increased from about 17 percent to around 22 percent. 

The team, from the City University of New York and Columbia University, says that physicians need to closely monitor their patients who are former smokers because these behaviors could all lead to an eventual relapse.

A new study from the City University of New York and Columbia University, found that rates of marijuana use among former smokers nearly doubled from about 5% in 2002 to around 10% in 2016 (file image)

Over the study period, they looked at the prevalence of depression, marijuana use, and alcohol misuse among 67,000 former smokes aged 18 or older.

The percentage of former smokers increased from around 44 percent in 2002 to nearly 50 percent in 2016. 

Researchers found that rates of depression also increased from about five percent to more than six percent.

Rates of cannabis use rose from 5.35 percent to 10.09 percent and alcohol binge drinking increased from 17.22 percent to 22.33 percent. 

'It's good news that...the proportion of former smokers among the US population is increasing,' said lead investigator Dr Renee Goodwin, an adjunct associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, in reference to the record-low smoking rates in the US.  

'However, as our study demonstrates, more of them are now suffering from depression and engaging in problematic substance use.'     

The profile of former smokers changed over the 14-year study period.

In 2002, former smokers were more likely to be white males who were between ages 50 and 64, married, had only completed high school and were earning between $20,000 and $49,000 per year.

In 2016, former smokers were more likely to be males aged 65 or older, never married, completed at least college education and earned more than $75,000 per year. 

The team believes the rates of cannabis use, in particular, increased because of the growing number of states that have legalized marijuana.

While some smokers use it in an attempt to quit tobacco, pot also increases the likelihood of smoking cigarettes again, according to Dr Goodwin. 

'Because previous research has demonstrated that these factors put former smokers at greater risk of relapsing with tobacco our study should signal an alarm for public health leaders and healthcare providers,' she said.

'The findings represent a looming threat to the progress that has been made in reducing the prevalence of cigarette use.'

She recommended that an emphasis be placed doctors and public health workers learn the predictors of relapse. 

'As such, screening for these issues and referral to treatment should be high priorities,' Dr Goodwin said. 'These are important steps for assuring growing and sustained abstinence among the US population, a trend with significant health and societal benefits.'

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