Article written by Denver therapist, Molly Ward
Denver Therapist, Molly Ward
Over the last decade, we have seen a rise in the prevalence of smoking nicotine liquid through e-cigarettes, “vaping” or “Juuling”, especially with teens and young adults.
Predatory tobacco companies have purposely marketed to vulnerable youth through enticing flavors and poor labelling.
Though regulations of e-cigarettes have increased by banning flavored nicotine pods and making sure e-cigarettes are regulated like cigarettes, the prevalence of addiction to nicotine is rising.
Have you ever seen someone lose their vape? Or you yourself? No surface goes unturned until it can be tracked down again and back in possession.
Vaping has a chokehold on our youth and quite frankly, they are sick of it.
Research is still developing in regards to the extent of the effects of nicotine on the brain.
However, many studies have suggested that the use of e-cigarettes leads to cognitive deficits in the adolescent/young adult brain. Here’s the breakdown:
5 Ways Vaping Impacts Adolescent Brains and Mental Health
Extended nicotine use can lead to impairment in executive functioning
Our executive functioning is a set of mental skills that help us with everyday function.
Read More: “Helpful Things To Know About Executive Functioning Skills”
It’s the part of our brain that helps regulate thoughts and emotion. It’s responsible for managing time, organization, self-awareness, and starting tasks.
When our executive functioning is impacted, it’s harder to take care of day-to-day activities.
This means it may be harder to take care of ourselves or engage in basic hygiene.
It makes going to school, staying at school, and doing homework or classwork incredibly difficult.
It can make getting to work and completing basic tasks daunting.
Tension in households may start to rise due to these struggles with taking care of basic responsibilities.
With all of these deficits, it can be easy for one’s mental health to be impacted in a negative way, as there are less positive experiences to build or maintain our self-esteem.
Nicotine use has also been connected with hyperactivity and impulsivity
E-cigarettes have been connected with hyperactivity and impulsivity, which can be categorized as another executive functioning deficit.
Teens and young adult brains are not fully developed which can lead to more risky behavior.
Impulsivity can be linked with shoplifting, substance use, increased sexual activity, among other behaviors.
Though impulsivity is not uncommon when the brain hasn’t fully developed, addiction to nicotine can make it worse.
There is an increased risk for physical fighting
With the increased risk of impulsivity, there is also an increased risk for physical altercations.
This often stems from struggling to regulate emotions and think things through.
Physical fights can lead to disruptions at school or work, disruption in connection with others, and engagement with the legal system, among many other implications.
All those potential experiences can severely impact mental health.
There is an increased risk of alcohol and marijuana use with e-cigarette use
Read More: “7 Tips For Talking With Teens About Marijuana Use (And The Reasons You Should)”
One study showed that teens were 3.6-4 times more likely to use marijuana in the next two years after use of nicotine.
Extended marijuana and alcohol use as an adolescent and young adult can impact the development of the brain.
Dependence on either of these substances can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression and decrease emotional regulation skills.
Nicotine use can lead to increased risk of suicidal ideation and attempted suicide
With the implications that vaping has on the brain and youth’s lives, its use can impact how youth manage conflict, relationships, and their emotions.
With all of these factors combined, over time, there can be an increase in isolation and struggles related to self-worth and self-esteem, leading to thoughts of suicide.
This is the most severe impact of extended use of vaping or Juuling.
What Can You Do?
One of the most important things you can do is educate yourself and others.
The same study mentioned earlier showed that a majority of teens did not know that they were consuming nicotine as the packaging was not properly labeled.
If you’re reading this as a parent, facilitate a discussion with your teen making sure they understand what vaping looks like and how it could impact them.
If you’re reading this in regards to yourself, pass this post on to someone else that may be struggling.
The impacts that Juuling or vaping can have on our mental health aren’t as widely discussed as the medical impacts.
Get Mental Health Support
Read More: “5 Ways To Build A Mindfulness Practice As A Teen”
Dependence or overuse of a substance can often indicate that there are underlying mental health concerns.
It might also mean that someone isn’t aware of enough tools to manage stressors and could benefit from learning more.
Working with a licensed therapist could support with identifying root causes and finding other ways to work through those, other than vaping.
Attending a support group could also be a helpful tool to identify stressors and develop tools to manage.
Quitting e-cigarettes is one of the hardest things I see my clients do.
However, the impact is invaluable. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, public health scientists are still learning about the impact of quitting e-cigarettes, but it has been associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and general stress.
It’s also been associated with an improved mood and quality of life.
Ways to Quit Vaping
Though this it is not easy to stop vaping, teens and young adults, with the help of mental health therapy, have been able to successfully remove vaping or Juuling from their life by:
- increasing coping skills, such as physical exercise of mindfulness activities
- using a tracker to track progress, like the I Am Sober app
- joining online support groups (google ‘vaping support groups’) or speaking with a counselor through a hotline like 1-800-QUIT-NOW during cravings
- learning triggers and adjusting the environment as needed (ie: asking for support from others, not being around certain people/places that may trigger use)
- using nicotine patches or gum to help with initial withdrawal symptoms
So many are caught in the grip of vaping and don’t know how to get out.
With the way its use impacts the brain, it makes it extra hard to put a stop to it.
With the support from others, a therapist, and the motivation to change things, it is possible that you can improve your quality of life.
Think about it – you’ll have so much more space to think and dream about your life when you’re not constantly wondering “where did I put that thing”?!
A life without vaping is something to gain, not lose.
Jones K, Salzman GA. The Vaping Epidemic in Adolescents. Mo Med. 2020 Jan- Feb;117(1):56-58. PMID: 32158051; PMCID: PMC7023954.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, November 10). Quick facts on the risks of e- cigarettes for kids, teens, and young adults. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e- cigarettes/Quick-Facts-on-the-Risks-of-E-cigarettes-for-Kids-Teens-and-Young- Adults.html?s_cid=OSH_emg_GL0004&gclid=CjwKCAjw4c- ZBhAEEiwAZ105RWCVRCdEFUvHw2NpMkukZV10KmfVKw1uNScA6pypwBsEDkPjQc-V8UBoCRU4QAvD_BwE#why-is-nicotine-unsafe
Learn More About Molly Ward
Molly Ward is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker practicing therapy in Denver, Colorado. Molly offers both in-person and telehealth therapy in Colorado.
She takes a trauma-informed, systems-approach to therapy with clients . What does this mean? Molly takes into account all aspects of a persons’ life when working with them to make effective, lasting changes including relationships, work, school, learning styles, interests, religion, gender, race, sexuality, culture and more.
She provides therapy for teens, adults and families providing therapy for anxiety, depression, ADHD, trauma, substance use and abuse, intuitive eating counseling and help navigating relationships.
Learn more from Molly through her articles posted in Denver Metro Counseling’s blog, her bio on DMC’s website or her instagram account.