Study uncovers how stress and hormones lead to smoking relapse

Researchers at the University of Minnesota will present new findings on stress and quitting smoking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Seattle Feb. 13. They have found that intensity of withdrawal symptoms and changes in certain hormone levels after quitting smoking predict potential for a smoker's relapse. They also found that men and women are affected by these factors differently.

"We have found that stress affects men and women differently when it comes to nicotine addiction and relapse," says lead researcher Mustafa al'Absi, Ph.D., of the University's Behavioral Medicine Laboratories in the School of Medicine, Duluth and Cancer Center member. "During abstinence women have more difficulties with the emotional side effects, while men have difficulties with the biological changes they experience. In future studies, we hope to discover the mechanisms responsible for these gender differences, so that we can develop more effective intervention strategies to help men and women overcome this addiction."

Previous research has found that during periods of acute psychological stress, several physiological and biological changes occur in the body. Research by al'Absi on smoking focuses on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis (HPA). One of the hormones released by this system is cortisol, an important biological indicator of stress. Cortisol interacts with several brain pathways that are affected by nicotine and may be the reason why stress leads to smoking or to craving for cigarettes.

Through earlier studies, al'Absi's team discovered that stress, seen through changes in cortisol and other HPA hormones, intensifies withdrawal symptoms. "We now wanted to know whether stressful events make it difficult for smokers to quit and increase their risk for relapse. And if stress contributes to smoking and relapse, which biological and psychological mechanisms are involved?"

This study exami

Contact: Brenda Hudson
University of Minnesota

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