Conscious Abstinence from Smokeless Tobacco Evokes Higher Withdrawal Response and Impairs Cognitive Performance Independent of Sympathetic Response

Ann Neurosci. 2020 Jan;27(1):29-39. doi: 10.1177/0972753120927515. Epub 2020 Sep 1.


Introduction: High consumption of smokeless tobacco in adult Indian population increases the risk of developing oral cancers leading to high morbidity and mortality. Though the influence of abstinence from smoking on cognitive performance has been widely studied, the effect of smokeless tobacco on cognitive performance and its association with withdrawal symptoms is less understood. This study comparatively investigates the effect of short-term conscious abstinence and distraction during abstinence from smokeless tobacco consumption on the craving, withdrawal symptoms, sympathetic response, and cognitive performance in tobacco addicts.

Methods: Age, sex, education and socioeconomic status matched control (N = 15) and smokeless tobacco addicts (N = 60) were recruited from residential areas in Bhubaneswar for the study. Following randomization of the addicts, conscious abstinence (N = 30) was induced by informed abstinence from tobacco consumption for 8 hours, while distracted cessation (N = 30) was induced by involving the participants in a cognitively engaging task for 8 hours during uninformed tobacco abstinence.

Results: The results of the study show higher withdrawal symptoms and reduced cognitive performance in volunteers with conscious abstinence which was positively correlated. The decreased cognitive performance in conscious cessation was independent of tobacco-induced increase in the LF:HF ratio and cotinine concentration in saliva.

Conclusion: While conscious abstinence results in higher withdrawal symptoms, distraction during abstinence lowers these symptoms. Inclusion of distraction sessions during cessation can, therefore, be a new element in tobacco control strategies.

Keywords: Smokeless tobacco; cessation; cognition; distraction; gutka; withdrawal symptoms.