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National Research Forum on Nicotine Addiction - smoke spacer

Addicted to Nicotine
A National Research Forum

Section V: Psychobiology of Nicotine Addiction
Neil E. Grunberg, Ph.D., Chair


Saul Shiffman, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Pittsburgh


Understanding differences among individuals in smoking and nicotine dependence can provide clues about the dynamics of smoking behavior and may provide a basis for enhanced treatment efficacy.


What We Know

  • A large proportion of U.S. cigarette smokers are addicted to nicotine to varying degrees.

  • More nicotine-dependent smokers are less likely to succeed at quitting and more likely to benefit from nicotine medications.

  • A very small subset of long-time, very light smokers seem to escape nicotine dependence. These smokers suffer no discernible withdrawal when quitting, and their smoking varies more across situations. Patterns of such light smoking run in families, suggesting the possibility of genetic influences.

What We Need To Know More About

  • Why do most smokers become nicotine-dependent, while some do not? What determines resistance or vulnerability to nicotine dependence?

  • Is the vulnerability to dependence determined by biological or genetic differences in responses to nicotine or other dimensions?

  • Does the pattern of acquisition of smoking and nicotine administration determine its development into nicotine addiction?

  • It has been suggested that lowering the nicotine delivery of cigarettes would help reduce nicotine dependence. However, we need to know how nicotine dependence is affected by changes in smoking patterns and by the nicotine delivery of cigarettes.


What We Know

  • Smokers score higher than nonsmokers on personality factors such as neuroticism (a tendency for emotional upset and turmoil) and sensation-seeking (an interest in thrills and novelty).

  • However, there is no consistent evidence supporting the role of a specific "addictive personality" in smoking. Personality differences are modest and not very specific to addictions.

What We Need To Know More About

  • Past studies of personality are necessarily constrained by our limited conceptualizations of personality traits and our ability to measure them. Would more refined and sophisticated measures of personality lead to clearer definitions of the personality characteristics of smokers?


What We Know

  • Smoking was historically more common among men, but men and women now have similar smoking prevalence; smoking among men has dropped, and women have caught up. This pattern is evident in several developed countries. In the developing world, sharp gender differences are still the norm.

  • Even though prevalence has equalized, men still smoke more heavily than women.

  • More than men, women report that they smoke in order to deal with stress and emotion.

  • Despite their lighter smoking, women appear to be less successful at quitting smoking.

What We Need To Know More About

What is the basis of gender differences in smoking and quitting?

  • Are they related to differences between men and women in biologically mediated sensitivity to nicotine reinforcement or to differences in gender roles, which affect how men and women deal with emotions?

  • Can we use what we know about gender differences in smoking to tailor smoking cessation programs for men and women?

Recommended Reading

Gilbert, D.G. Smoking: Individual differences, psychopathology, and emotion. Washington, Taylor, & Francis, 1995.

Grunberg, N.E.; Winders, S.E.; and Wewers, M.E. Gender differences in tobacco use. Health Psychol 10:143-153, 1991.

Shiffman, S.; Paty, J.A.; Kassel, J.D.; Gnys, M.; and Zettler-Segal, M. Smoking behavior and smoking history of tobacco chippers. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 2:126-142, 1994.

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