Chronic Smoking, Trait Anxiety, and the Physiological Response to Stress

Nicole Wiggert, Frank H. Wilhelm, Motohiro Nakajima, Mustafa al'Absi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background and Objectives: Both chronic smoking and trait anxiety have been associated with dysregulations in psychobiological stress response systems. However, these factors have not been studied in conjunction. We expected trait anxiety and smoking status to attenuate stress reactivity. Furthermore, we expected an allostatic load effect resulting in particularly attenuated stress reactivity in high-anxious smokers. In addition, high-anxious smokers were expected to exhibit increased urges to smoke in response to stress. Methods: 115 smokers and 37 nonsmokers, aged 18–64 years, completed a laboratory session including mental stressors such as evaluated public speaking and mental arithmetic. Trait anxiety was assessed using Spielberger's State–Trait Anxiety Inventory. Cardiovascular autonomic indices, salivary cortisol, and the desire to smoke were measured at baseline, during stressors, and at recovery. Results: Regression analyses showed that smokers exhibited attenuated cardiovascular stress responses in comparison to nonsmokers. Higher trait anxiety predicted attenuated systolic blood pressure responses to stress. No interaction effect of smoking status and trait anxiety was found in stress response measures. Higher trait anxiety predicted an increased desire to smoke in response to stress among smokers. Conclusion: Results indicate that both smoking status and trait anxiety are associated with blunted sympatho-adrenal cardiovascular stress reactivity. Elevated urges to smoke in response to stress found among smokers with high trait anxiety suggest an important role of anxiety in smoking propensity and relapse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1619-1628
Number of pages10
JournalSubstance Use and Misuse
Issue number12
StatePublished - Oct 14 2016


  • Chronic smoking
  • cardiovascular system
  • mental stress
  • psychophysiology
  • sympathetic nervous system
  • trait anxiety


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