Original Investigation


, Volume 181, Issue 1, pp 107-117

First online:

Attenuated adrenocorticotropic responses to psychological stress are associated with early smoking relapse

  • Mustafa al’AbsiAffiliated withDepartment of Behavioral Sciences, University of Minnesota Medical SchoolDepartment of Family Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical SchoolDepartment of Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Minnesota Medical School Email author 
  • , Dorothy HatsukamiAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Minnesota
  • , Gary L. DavisAffiliated withDepartment of Behavioral Sciences, University of Minnesota Medical School

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Research has demonstrated that psychosocial stressors increase smoking and risk for smoking relapse. Alterations in biological systems involved in the stress response caused by chronic smoking may contribute to early relapse.


We examined the extent to which pituitary–adrenocortical and cardiovascular responses to stress following the first 24 h of a quit attempt predict early relapse.


Seventy-two smokers interested in cessation attended a laboratory stress session 24 h after the beginning of their cessation attempt. Adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), plasma and salivary cortisol concentrations, systolic and diastolic blood pressure (BP), and heart rate (HR) responses to acute psychological stressors (public speaking and cognitive challenges) were used to predict relapse over a 4-week follow-up period.


Those who relapsed within 4 weeks showed attenuated hormonal and cardiovascular responses to stress and exaggerated withdrawal symptoms. Cox proportional hazards survival analysis showed that attenuated ACTH, plasma cortisol, systolic and diastolic BP, positive affect, and exaggerated withdrawal symptoms and smoking urges during acute stress predicted early relapse. Stepwise model showed that ACTH, diastolic BP, and exaggerated withdrawal symptoms remain as significant predictors. When baseline smoking and psychological measures were included in the model, changes in ACTH, diastolic BP, and both factors of smoking urges remained significant predictors of relapse.


These results demonstrate that altered stress response predicts increased vulnerability for smoking relapse.


Stress Smoking Relapse Adrenocorticotropic hormone Withdrawal symptoms Cortisol Cardiovascular responses