I wish there was an easy answer as to why you smoke, but the truth is that the reasons are different for each person. There are different influences, life circumstances, social circles that could all affect your health habits. I may not have your specific answer, but what I could offer you right now are macro experiences. What I mean by macro experiences are those bigger pictures that research shows to have patterns and associations. These patterns may not be true for everyone, but there are tendencies and likelihoods that show people tend to lean in certain directions based on certain information. For example, it’s been shown that those start drinking earlier have a greater chance of becoming alcohol dependent. It’s not true for everyone, but there is an association there. There are many things that could also be influencing that outcome: family environment, other mental health problems, peers, etc.
One particular association I’ve been interested in is the likelihood of you smoking based on whether your parents smoked. Well, I did something along these lines during my work in San Diego where I examined smoking expectations, family history, and cigarette smoking initiation. So among college students whose parents smoked, do they have different expectations of what cigarette smoking will do for them and will that, in turn, affect whether they actually begin smoking?
This question is particularly useful because those who grew up around cigarette smoke may have a different idea of what smoking will do for them. Perhaps they may think it will enhance their mood (i.e. positive reinforcement expectancies) or maybe they think it will just help them deal with stress (i.e. negative reinforcement expectancies) or maybe they think that smoking will cause them cancer or some other ailment (i.e. negative outcome expectancies). There are all sorts of ways one’s expectations can affect their behavior.
What our research found when looking at these types of expectancies and those with a family history of smoking was that only negative outcome expectancies influenced whether those with a family history of smoking initiated use or not. Thus, those whose parents had smoked and reported more negative outcome expectancies (i.e. they expect smoking to cause cancer) were less likely to initiate. This is actually consistent with other research that shows teens with a family history of smoking tend to have more negative expectancies of smoking. These adolescents may see negative consequences of smoking from their parents and/or receive negative messages from them about smoking that may make them less likely to smoke.
This is the first of it’s research in the area, so there is definitely more work to be done here. Either way though, it is an interesting first step as expectancies play a huge part in nicotine, alcohol and other drug use. Just think about your own life and how much fun you expect to have a party will drive whether or not you use or not. The context you drink in is just as important as whether you drink or not because the context may drive the actual behavior. If I were to tell you to go to this awesome college party with all your friends, how likely are you to drink? If I were to tell you to go to the Starbucks down the street and starting drinking vodka tonics alone, how likely are you to drink? Probably the former would peak your interest a bit more. These are the types of things that researchers need to look at to understand how and why certain people drink or smoke and what keeps them going and what makes some more likely to quit. We may not have all the answers right now, but we’re getting there…
Acknowledgment: Thank you Dr. Neal Doran for this line of research and allowing me to be a part of it!
Citation: Khoddam, R., & Doran, N. (2013). Family history moderates the effects of expectancies on smoking initiation in college students. Addictive Behaviors, 38, 2384-2387.
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Rubin Khoddam, Clinical Psychology PhD student at University of Southern California, founder of Psych Connection.
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