Research on stress and smoking: progress and problems

Br J Addict. 1991 May;86(5):599-603. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.1991.tb01815.x.


Despite evidence that smoking behaviour increases in the context of stress, there has yet to be a clear-cut demonstration that nicotine intake is similarly enhanced. Although nicotine intake has been shown to reduce reported anxiety in the context of stress, the controlling conditions (type of stressor, intensity, temporal relationships, etc.) need further exploration. Recent findings involving nicotine's effects on the hypophyseal-adrenal axis provide a new perspective on these issues, in that increased nicotine intake during exposure to a stressor may represent, at least in part, behavioral compensation for diminished sensitivity to nicotine brought about by nicotine-stimulated corticosteroid release. Corticosteroids may decrease central nervous system excitability in a way that could account for anxiety reduction; on the other hand, anxiety reduction may be an epiphenomenon with respect to the reinforcement of smoking behaviour. The integration of behavioural, physiological, and biochemical research exemplified by the above approach should lead to a better understanding of stress and smoking.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / complications
  • Arousal / drug effects*
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Humans
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage
  • Nicotine / adverse effects
  • Psychophysiology
  • Recurrence
  • Smoking / physiopathology
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / psychology


  • Nicotine