Research: gender plays a role in smoking cessation

Angela Delmedico

Gender differences play a major role in smoking cessation and vulnerability to relapse, according to recent research conducted by the University of Minnesota-Duluth Behavioral Medicine Laboratories.

While trying to quit smoking, women are more likely to relapse because of psychological side effects, while men are more likely to because of biological triggers such as smelling smoke, according to the study.

Both genders in the three-year study reported the same withdrawal symptoms but relapsed differently because of different stress responses between men and women.

“A lot of people talk about how stress makes them want to relapse, but we didn’t know very well how that happens,” said lead researcher Mustafa al’Absi of the Behavioral Medicine Laboratories.

Men are affected greatly by the hormone cortisol, which increases in response to stress. Cortisol is a good stress indicator because it is extremely reactive to stress and very pervasive, affecting the brain, the immune system and the peripheral system, al’Absi said.

“The most important aspect of this study is that when we treat men and women, we have to be concerned about how they experience these (withdrawal) symptoms and tailor our treatment accordingly,” al’Absi said.

The research was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Seattle last week.

The implications could impact addiction research. Other research areas might further explore the study of gender differences regarding addiction.

Harry Lando, University professor of epidemiology and cessation researcher at the University’s Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center said the findings on stress-related gender differences are monumental to the research field, especially since they had not been studied until now.

Funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the research center combines many scientific disciplines, including: the neurosciences, economics, epidemiology, genetics, behavioral sciences, pharmacology and medicine.

“This is evolving into a larger program and I’m hoping that we’ll discover a better means for combating nicotine addiction and understanding the process of addiction in a more refined manner, especially when it comes to gender differences,” al’Absi said.