Shape of the relapse curve and long-term abstinence among untreated smokers

Addiction. 2004 Jan;99(1):29-38. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2004.00540.x.


Objective: To describe the relapse curve and rate of long-term prolonged abstinence among smokers who try to quit without treatment.

Method: Systematic literature review.

Data sources: Cochrane Reviews, Dissertation Abstracts, Excerpt Medica, Medline, Psych Abstracts and US Center for Disease Control databases plus bibliographies of articles and requests of scientists.

Study selection: Prospective studies of self-quitters or studies that included a no-treatment control group.

Data extraction: Two reviewers independently extracted data in a non-blind manner.

Data synthesis: The number of studies was too small and the data too heterogeneous for meta-analysis or other statistical techniques.

Results: There is a paucity of studies reporting relapse curves of self-quitters. The existing eight relapse curves from two studies of self-quitters and five no-treatment control groups indicate most relapse occurs in the first 8 days. These relapse curves were heterogeneous even when the final outcome was made similar. In terms of prolonged abstinence rates, a prior summary of 10 self-quitting studies, two other studies of self-quitters and three no-treatment control groups indicate 3-5% of self-quitters achieve prolonged abstinence for 6-12 month after a given quit attempt.

Conclusions: More reports of relapse curves of self-quitters are needed. Smoking cessation interventions should focus on the first week of abstinence. Interventions that produce abstinence rates of 5-10% may be effective. Cessation studies should report relapse curves.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Recurrence
  • Self Care*
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Smoking Prevention
  • Survival Analysis
  • Time Factors