Aims: To examine the natural history of nicotine withdrawal and individual differences associated with withdrawal duration and severity.
Design and setting: Prospective study of withdrawal symptoms among smokers who quit for at least 24 hours. Participants used Ecological Momentary Assessment to monitor symptoms in their natural environment using an Electronic Diary (ED).
Participants: A total of 214 cigarette smokers (59% female, 92% Caucasian).
Intervention: All participants received a clinic-based, behavioral, group cessation intervention. Severity and duration of withdrawal was not addressed explicitly in treatment.
Measurements: Participants were 'beeped' by the ED approximately five times/day to complete affect assessments (negative affect, arousal, attention disturbance, restlessness), and daily assessments of sleep disturbance (at waking) and of cognitive performance (each evening) for a week prior to quitting and for up to 21 days after quitting. Withdrawal was considered resolved when withdrawal scores returned to baseline levels for at least 2 consecutive days.
Findings: All symptoms returned to baseline levels within 10 days of quitting. All variables except arousal and sleep disturbance showed change over time. No robust predictors of individual differences in withdrawal responses emerged.
Conclusions: The time-course of withdrawal may be shorter than previously reported. The natural history of nicotine withdrawal may have implications for theories of withdrawal and smoking relapse and for smoking cessation treatment.