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Predicting Smokers' Relapse

Links between stress, hormones key to returning to habit

SATURDAY, Feb. 14, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The ways that stress and hormones may cause someone who's quit smoking to relapse are revealed in a new University of Minnesota study.

The study found changes in levels of certain hormones after quitting and intensity of withdrawal symptoms predict the potential that a former smoker will relapse. The study also found these factors affect men and women differently.

"We have found that stress affects men and women differently when it comes to nicotine addiction and relapse," lead researcher Mustafa al'Absi, of the University of Minnesota's Behavioral Medicine Laboratories, says in a prepared statement.

"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," al'Absi says.

The study was presented Feb. 13 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Seattle.

The study included 72 longtime smokers. Their levels of the hormone cortisol -- an important biological indicator of stress -- were measured before they quit smoking and during the first 24 hours after they quit. Their stress responses were also measured during that first day of smoking abstinence.

Then, the study subjects returned to the lab four times over four weeks for follow-up interviews.

During the first week, the relapse rate was about 48 percent -- comparable to large population studies. The people who relapsed reported greater distress and withdrawal symptoms during the first 24 hours of abstinence. They also showed a steeper decline of cortisol concentrations after quitting compared with when they were still smoking.

Cortisol response to stress was greater in men than in women. The study also found that women who experienced intense withdrawal symptoms tended to relapse sooner than women who experience less intense withdrawal symptoms. But withdrawal symptoms didn't relate to relapse risk in men.

Among men, those who had higher hormonal responses to stress relapsed sooner than men who had lower hormonal responses to stress. Hormonal response to stress did not relate to relapse risk in women.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about smoking cessation.

SOURCE: University of Minnesota, news release, Feb. 13, 2004
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