Research has shown that smoking commercial cigarettes results in slight elevations in cortisol levels relative to smoking nicotine-free cigarettes. It is not clear however, whether cortisol concentrations are associated with nicotine withdrawal symptoms among regular cigarette smokers. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms resemble a stress response, and may therefore contribute to cortisol production. This preliminary study focuses on assessing the association between salivary cortisol levels and subsequent levels of self-reported withdrawal and craving symptoms. Twenty male smokers were studied during a 4-h deprivation period. All participants smoked an initial cigarette shortly after arrival and were informed that they would be unable to smoke for the remainder of the session. The session consisted of each participant watching a movie, and then waiting in the laboratory for two consecutive 30-min intervals. Self-reported nicotine withdrawal and craving were assessed four times and salivary cortisol, five times, during the session. Results show that baseline cortisol concentrations predicted subsequent withdrawal symptoms and craving measured using the Tobacco Withdrawal Symptom Checklist (WSC). This suggests that salivary cortisol may contribute to, or be a marker of, nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Dr. al'Absi was supported in part by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA013435) and the National Cancer Institute (CA88272). Special appreciation is extended to William R. Lovallo, PhD and Barbara S. McKey, RN, of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Behavioral Sciences Laboratory who assisted with the cortisol sample preparation and storage. The saliva cortisol assays were performed by M. L'Hermite-Baleriaux, Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium.