Attenuated adrenocortical and blood pressure responses to psychological stress in ad libitum and abstinent smokers

Mustafa Al'Absi, Lorentz E. Wittmers, Jonathan Erickson, Dorothy Hatsukami, Byron Crouse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

141 Scopus citations


Chronic smoking may alter physiological systems involved in the stress response. This study was designed to examine the effects of ad libitum smoking and abstinence on adrenocortical and cardiovascular responses to acute psychological stress in dependent cigarette smokers. We evaluated differences among abstinent smokers, smokers who continued to smoke at their normal rate, and nonsmokers in salivary cortisol concentrations, systolic and diastolic blood pressure (BP), heart rate (HR), and mood reports. Measurements were obtained during rest and in response to acute psychological stress (public speaking) in one session (stress session) and during continuous rest in a control session. Thirty-eight smokers (21 women) and 32 nonsmokers (18 women) participated. Smokers were assigned to either abstain from smoking the night prior to and the day of each session, or to continue smoking at their normal rate before each session. All groups showed significant stress-induced changes in BP and HR. Smokers, regardless of their assigned condition, showed attenuated systolic BP responses to the public-speaking stressor when compared to nonsmokers. While resting cortisol levels were greater among smokers than nonsmokers, no cortisol response to the acute stressor was demonstrated in either ad libitum or abstinent smokers. These results indicate that chronic smoking diminishes adrenocortical and cardiovascular responses to stress, and that short-term abstinence does not correct these alterations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)401-410
Number of pages10
JournalPharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Todd Amunrud, Katie Bellmont, Kevin Sullivan, and Andrew Cumings for assistance with data collection and management. We thank Clemens Kirschbaum of the Institute of Physiological Psychology, University of Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany. We thank Paul Pentel of the University of Minnesota and the Hennepin County Medical Center for his assistance in assaying salivary cotinine samples. This research was supported, in part, by grants to the first author from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA013435) and the National Cancer Institute (CA88272).


  • Attenuated response
  • Psychological stress
  • Smokers


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