Acute nicotine reinforcement, but not chronic tolerance, predicts withdrawal and relapse after quitting smoking

Health Psychol. 2002 Jul;21(4):332-9. doi: 10.1037//0278-6133.21.4.332.


Little research has examined the association of tobacco dependence with nicotine tolerance or reinforcement in a clinical sample. Smokers preparing to quit smoking participated in laboratory sessions to assess nicotine tolerance on subjective, cardiovascular, and performance measures and to assess nicotine reinforcement using a choice procedure. Participants were then provided with individual counseling (but no medication), made a quit attempt, and were followed for 1 year to determine clinical outcome, as determined by postquit withdrawal and days to relapse. Nicotine tolerance was unrelated to either withdrawal or relapse. However, acute nicotine reinforcement was significantly related to both greater withdrawal and faster relapse. Results challenge the common assumption that nicotine tolerance is closely related to dependence but suggest that nicotine reinforcement may have theoretical and clinical significance for dependence.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Adult
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Tolerance
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Nicotine / adverse effects*
  • Recurrence
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Self Administration
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Smoking Cessation / psychology*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / psychology*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / rehabilitation
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / rehabilitation


  • Nicotine