Smokers deprived of cigarettes for 72 h: effect of nicotine patches on craving and withdrawal
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Rationale. Research on the effects of nicotine abstinence and nicotine replacement has not provided consistent information about the impact of replacement therapies on tobacco withdrawal and craving.
Objective. This study investigated craving and withdrawal symptoms over a 72-h period of abstinence from cigarettes.
Methods. Twenty-four healthy volunteers, not intending to quit smoking, were housed in an experimental unit during three 72-h conditions, consisting of either free smoking, enforced smoking cessation with nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) patches, or enforced smoking cessation with placebo patches. The conditions were adhered to using a randomized crossover design, each separated by at least 10 days of washout. Patches, administered in a double-blind fashion, were given as nicotine (21 mg/24 h) and placebo every 24 h. Self-reported cigarette craving and withdrawal were assessed using multi-item scales at fixed intervals over each condition period. Urinary and plasma cortisol levels were also assayed at fixed intervals over each period.
Results. Craving intensity was significantly lower with free smoke than with placebo and with NRT patches than with placebo. No difference in craving levels was found between those who smoked or those who had NRT patches. Withdrawal symptoms were significantly lower with free smoke than with either placebo or NRT patches, but there was no difference in levels of withdrawal between those on NRT patches and those on placebo. During the placebo and NRT patch periods, craving intensity displayed a circadian rhythm, with craving levels lowest in the morning and peaking in the evening. Nicotine delivered via the patch had no impact on these circadian variations in craving. There was no evidence of systematic temporal variations in craving levels during the free smoking period.
Conclusions. The data suggested that craving and withdrawal symptoms may be sustained by different physiological pathways, and that only selected components of cigarette craving are influenced by NRT.
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