Scientists Chart Nicotine Craving's Impact On Mental Skills

April 20, 1999

Smokers trying to quit have long known that going without cigarettes hampers their ability to concentrate, but now scientists are charting how this works.

New research suggests that while abstinence increases a smoker's craving, it may harm smokers' performance on some mental tasks while leaving their performance on others unchanged.

"It is likely that craving and impaired concentration, in part, function to maintain smoking in nicotine-dependent individuals and to increase the probability that a smoker attempting to quit will relapse," says Stephen J. Heishman, Ph.D., of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Baltimore, and colleagues, reporting in the premier issue of the journal, Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

One of the more surprising findings reported is that when smokers abstain from cigarettes their reasoning skills do not seem to decrease, but when they resume smoking they actually appear to improve.

"A more complete understanding of tobacco craving and the influence of smoking on cognitive performance should enhance our ability to treat these symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, thereby increasing the probability of successful smoking cessation efforts," they write.

The investigators studied the effects of smoking and abstinence on 20 smokers who completed two computerized tests before and after smoking one afternoon and again after being deprived of cigarettes for 18 hours. The participants typically smoked 23 cigarettes daily and had been smoking for more than 17 years, on average.

In one test, smokers were instructed to find specific pairs of letters in a sequence of 20 other letters. The other test presented them with a series of letter pairs and statements and was designed to measure their ability to reason.

Responses revealed that the smokers' cravings for cigarettes increased significantly over the 18-hour abstinence. After they had been allowed to smoke again, however, their cravings subsided to the levels observed at the beginning of the study.

On the letter-search test, the smokers took longer to complete the task when deprived of cigarettes, but their speed improved to baseline levels after smoking. On the test of logical reasoning, however, performance did not decrease after abstinence, but actually improved after smoking. Neither smoking nor abstinence had any effect on smokers' accuracy on the two tasks.

The investigators were also surprised to find that performance on the logical reasoning test, the more difficult of the two, was not impaired when smokers were deprived of their cigarettes, despite clear evidence that their cravings had increased. It is possible, they say, that smokers' ability to maintain attention, necessary to complete the letter-search task, was more compromised by tobacco abstinence than was their ability to process verbal information, which was required in the logical reasoning test.
Nicotine & Tobacco Research is the official peer-reviewed quarterly journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. For information about the Journal, contact its editor, Gary E. Swan, 650-859-5322.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health For information about the Center, contact Petrina Chong, 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

Related Smoking Articles from Brightsurf:

Smoking rates falling in adults, but stroke survivors' smoking rates remain steady
While the rate of Americans who smoke tobacco has fallen steadily over the last two decades, the rate of stroke survivors who smoke has not changed significantly.

What is your risk from smoking? Your network knows!
A new study from researchers at Penn's Annenberg School for Communication found that most people, smokers and non-smokers alike, were nowhere near accurate in their answers to questions about smoking's health effects.

Want to quit smoking? Partner up
Kicking the habit works best in pairs. That's the main message of a study presented today at EuroPrevent 2019, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

Smoking and mortality in Asia
In this analysis of data from 20 studies conducted in China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and India with more than 1 million participants, deaths associated with smoking continued to increase among men in Asia grouped by the years in which they were born.

Predictors of successfully quitting smoking among smokers registered at the quit smoking clinic at a public hospital in northeastern Malaysia
In the current issue of Family Medicine and Community Health, Nur Izzati Mohammad et al. consider how cigarette smoking is one of the risk factors leading to noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular and respiratory system diseases and cancer.

Restaurant and bar smoking bans do reduce smoking, especially among the highly educated
Smoking risk drops significantly in college graduates when they live near areas that have completely banned smoking in bars and restaurants, according to a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

How the UK smoking ban increased wellbeing
Married women with children reported the largest increase in well-being following the smoking bans in the UK in 2006 and 2007 but there was no comparable increase for married men with children.

Smoking study personalizes treatment
A simple blood test is allowing Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) researchers to determine which patients should be prescribed varenicline (Chantix) to stop smoking and which patients could do just as well, and avoid side effects, by using a nicotine patch.

A biophysical smoking gun
While much about Alzheimer's disease remains a mystery, scientists do know that part of the disease's progression involves a normal protein called tau, aggregating to form ropelike inclusions within brain cells that eventually strangle the neurons.

A case where smoking helped
A mutation in the hemoglobin of a young woman in Germany was found to cause her mild anemia.

Read More: Smoking News and Smoking Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to