Relapse to smoking is often precipitated by stress, yet little is known about the effects of nicotine withdrawal on responses to acute stress, or whether nicotine replacement reverses withdrawal-induced changes in stress response. The aim of the present study is to use an effective social stressor, the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), to study subjective, cardiovascular and hormonal responses to stress during withdrawal, and examine whether nicotine replacement moderates responses to stress during withdrawal. Forty-nine current regular smokers were randomly assigned to smoke as normal (SM), 12-h abstention with placebo patch (PL), or 12-h abstention with nicotine patch (NIC). They participated in a single session using the TSST, during which subjective affect, heart rate (HR), mean arterial blood pressure (MAP) and salivary cortisol were measured. The TSST produced expected increases in subjective negative affect, HR, MAP, and cortisol. Groups did not differ in subjective or cardiovascular responses, but the PL group exhibited larger stress-induced increase in cortisol than the other groups. The increased cortisol response might indicate a greater hormonal stress response during nicotine withdrawal. Alternatively, considering that cortisol also provides negative feedback to the stress system, and blunted cortisol responses are predictive of smoking relapse, the lower cortisol responses in the NIC and SM groups might indicate chronic dysregulation of the stress system. In this case, restoration of cortisol response by nicotine treatment to the lower levels seen during regular smoking may actually represent an undesired side effect of nicotine replacement.
- Brain and Behaviour
- Tobacco and Alcohol