Women compared to men may experience more severe health effects from smoking and may find quitting more difficult. This makes studies addressing nicotine addiction in women important. Growing evidence suggests that the menstrual cycle plays a role in continuing to smoke and ability to quit smoking. Studies show that during certain times in the menstrual cycle women have a harder time quitting smoking, but the underlying reason for this in unknown.
In smokers, the act of smoking may become an automatic response. This means that in certain situations a smoker may find themselves smoking without any intention to smoke; thus to successfully stop smoking requires smokers to actively stop their natural impulse to smoke. Both nicotine abstinence and high estrogen states (such as those seen about a week and a half after the first day of a women’s period) are associated with decreased ability to stop reflexive behavior, which could make refraining from smoking difficult.
This study aims to examine the interactions between menstrual cycle phase, nicotine, and ability to stop reflexive behaviors, with the goal of clarifying how the menstrual cycle may impact smoking behavior and relapse risk in females. We propose to test 60 non-treatment-seeking pre-menopausal female daily smokers on measures of tobacco withdrawal symptoms, computer based measures of ability to stop reflexive actions, and a smoking lapse analogue task during each phase of their menstrual cycle. Participants will be randomly assigned to attend the three experimental sessions after either normal smoking or not smoking for 16 hours. We hypothesize that about a week and a half after the first day of the last period, women who have not smoked will have the greatest difficulties in ability to stop automatic behavior. This will result in women choosing to smoke sooner on a smoking lapse analogue task.
Completion of this project will generate novel information regarding the role of the menstrual cycle and hormones on smoking, the role of hormones and smoking on reflexive smoking behavior. This information can be used to guide smoking cessation strategies in women and for planning quit days to occur during certain time points in the menstrual cycle. Further, if our hypotheses are supported, these findings would suggest that replacement of sensorimotor and nicotine loss during abstinence may be useful treatment strategies particularly during the week and a half to two weeks following the first day of the last period.