Efficacy of N-acetylcysteine in the treatment of nicotine dependence: a double-blind placebo-controlled pilot study

Eur Addict Res. 2011;17(4):211-6. doi: 10.1159/000327682. Epub 2011 May 24.


Relapse is the rule rather than the exception in smokers aiming to quit smoking. Recently, evidence has emerged that glutamate transmission plays an important role in relapse. N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a cysteine prodrug, restores glutamate homeostasis and appears to be a potential new treatment for substance dependence. In the current pilot study, the effects of NAC on short-term abstinence of smoking were investigated. Subjects were heavy smokers randomized to receive placebo (n = 12) or NAC 3,600 mg/day (n = 10) in a double-blind fashion during 3.5 days. Subjects were asked to stop smoking and report on nicotine craving, nicotine withdrawal symptoms, and cigarette smoking during treatment. At the end of the treatment, subjects were invited to smoke a cigarette and to rate the rewarding effect of this cigarette. There was no significant effect of NAC on craving (p = 0.23, d = 0.52) and only a statistical trend towards fewer withdrawal symptoms in the NAC condition (p = 0.07, d = 0.80). Interestingly, subjects receiving NAC rated the first cigarette after the abstinence period of 3.5 days as significantly less rewarding than subjects on placebo (p = 0.04, d = 0.85). It is concluded that the results of this pilot study are encouraging and suggest that NAC might be a promising new treatment option for relapse prevention in nicotine dependence.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Smoking Cessation / psychology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / diagnosis
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Acetylcysteine