Psychophysiological effects of nicotine abstinence and behavioral challenges in habitual smokers

Mustafa N al'Absi, Todd Amunrud, Lorentz E. Wittmers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


We tested the hypothesis that psychophysiological responses to behavioral challenges are enhanced by short-term abstinence from smoking. Blood pressure (BP), salivary cortisol levels, and withdrawal symptoms were measured after a period of smoking abstinence (18 h) or ad libitum smoking, during rest, and in response to acute behavioral challenges. Thirty habitual smokers (15 women and 15 men) participated in two laboratory sessions conducted on two separate days (after abstinence or ad libitum smoking). Cotinine concentrations in saliva and expired carbon monoxide were measured in both conditions. Abstinence produced significant withdrawal symptoms in all participants, with women reporting greater desire to smoke than men. Participants showed greater systolic BP responses to the behavioral challenges in the abstinence condition than the control condition. They also showed worse cognitive performance on the challenges in the abstinence than in the ad libitum condition. Men had greater salivary cortisol levels than women, and both men and women showed the expected decline in cortisol levels across time, but showed no difference between the abstinence and ad libitum smoking conditions in the laboratory or during ambulatory measurements. These results indicate that abstinence alters mood, performance, and BP responses to acute challenges but not adrenocortical responses. It is possible that these changes mediate stress-related vulnerability to smoking relapse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)707-716
Number of pages10
JournalPharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Kate Bellmont, Jonathan Erickson, Kevin Sullivan, and Andrew Cumings for assistance with data collection and management. We thank Paul Pentel of the University of Minnesota and the Hennepin County Medical Center for his assistance in assaying salivary cotinine samples. We thank Clemens Kirschbaum of the University of Duesseldorf, Germany, for assistance with the salivary cortisol assay. This research was supported, in part, by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA 013435) and the National Cancer Institute (CA 88272), the Minnesota Medical Foundation, and the University of Minnesota Graduate School Grant-in-Aid program.


  • Behavioral stress
  • Cognitive performance
  • Cortisol
  • Gender differences
  • Mood
  • Nicotine addiction
  • Withdrawal


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