Intranasal oxytocin dampens cue-elicited cigarette craving in daily smokers: a pilot study

Behav Pharmacol. 2016 Dec;27(8):697-703. doi: 10.1097/FBP.0000000000000260.


Despite moderate success with pharmacological and behavioral treatments, smoking relapse rates remain high, and many smokers report that smoking cues lead to relapse. Therefore, treatments that target cue reactivity are needed. One candidate for reducing craving is the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT). Here, we investigated the effects of intranasal OT on two types of craving for cigarettes: craving following overnight abstinence and craving elicited by smoking-related cues. In this within-subject, placebo-controlled pilot study, smokers (N=17) abstained from smoking for 12 h before attending two sessions randomized to intranasal OT or placebo (i.e. saline nasal spray). On each session, participants received two doses of OT (20 IU) or placebo at 1-h intervals, and rated craving before and after each dose. Spontaneous cigarette craving was assessed after the first spray, and cue-elicited craving was assessed following the second spray. OT did not reduce levels of spontaneous craving after the first spray, but significantly dampened cue-induced smoking craving. These results provide preliminary evidence that OT can reduce cue-induced smoking craving in smokers. These findings provide an important link between preclinical and clinical studies aimed at examining the effectiveness of OT as a novel treatment for drug craving.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Craving / drug effects*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Oxytocin / administration & dosage*
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology
  • Pilot Projects
  • Smokers / psychology*
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Oxytocin