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Hormonal, cardiovascular, and subjective responses to acute stress in smokers

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Abstract

Rationale

There are complex relationships between stress and smoking; smoking may reduce the emotional discomfort of stress, yet nicotine activates stress systems and may alter responses to acute stress. It is important to understand how smoking affects physiological and psychological outcomes after stress and how these may interact to motivate smoking.

Objectives

This study aimed to examine the magnitude and time course of hormonal, cardiovascular, and psychological responses to acute psychosocial stress in smokers and non-smokers to investigate whether responses to acute stress are altered in smokers.

Materials and methods

Healthy male non-smokers (n = 20) and smokers (n = 15) participated in two experimental sessions involving a standardized public speaking stress procedure and a control non-stressful task. The outcome measures included self-reported mood, cardiovascular measures (heart rate and blood pressure), and plasma hormone levels (noradrenaline, cortisol, progesterone, and allopregnanolone).

Results

Smokers exhibited blunted increases in cortisol after the Trier Social Stress Test, and they reported greater and more prolonged subjective agitation than non-smokers. Stress-induced changes in progesterone were similar between smokers and non-smokers, although responses overall were smaller among smokers. Stress did not significantly alter levels of allopregnanolone, but smokers exhibited lower plasma concentrations of this neurosteroid.

Conclusions

These findings suggest that smoking dampens hormonal responses to stress and prolongs subjective discomfort. Dysregulated stress responses may represent a breakdown in the body’s ability to cope efficiently and effectively with stress and may contribute to smokers’ susceptibility to acute stress, especially during abstinence.

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Acknowledgments

These experiments complied with current US laws. The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest. This research was supported by NIDA (DA02812) and the University of Chicago Hospital’s GCRC (USPHS MO1RR000555). We thank Ben Cunningham, Stephen Sittler, Lisa Vicini, Heather Phillips, and Nicholas Van Dam for their technical assistance.

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Correspondence to Emma Childs.

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Childs, E., de Wit, H. Hormonal, cardiovascular, and subjective responses to acute stress in smokers. Psychopharmacology 203, 1–12 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-008-1359-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-008-1359-5

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