Psychologists explore a new reason why quitting smoking is so difficult

Posted on January 7, 2015

When a cigarette smoker attempts to quit, not only do they crave their usual nicotine hit, they also experience an unpleasant inability to enjoy other pleasures in life - a state known as "anhedonia".

Jessica Cook and her colleagues studied over a thousand smokers enrolled on a quitting programme in the US. The participants (mostly White, 58.3 per cent were female) were placed on a range of nicotine replacement therapies or they were given placebo. The participants also kept an evening diary from five days before, to ten days after, their quit day. Here they recorded how much pleasure they'd experienced that day across three domains: social, recreation and performance/accomplishment.

The researchers found that stopping smoking was followed by an immediate spike in anhedonia - on the day of quitting, participants in the placebo condition showed a marked reduction in their experience of pleasure from various aspects of life. This quitting-related anhedonia peaked the day after quitting and showed all the hallmarks of being part of the nicotine "withdrawal syndrome". That is, levels of anhedonia tended to be correlated with other withdrawal symptoms (such as craving and poor concentration); the anhedonia faded over time; and it was eased by the administration of a nicotine therapy, such as a nicotine lozenge or patch.

Perhaps most importantly, the results showed that levels of anhedonia were correlated (negatively) with participants' subsequent success at abstinence, even after controlling for the predictive value of craving levels and negative mood. In other words, more quitting-related anhedonia was associated with less success at quitting.

Category(s):Addictions, Smoking Cessation

Source material from British Psychological Society