GENDER DIFFERENCES IN PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF NICOTINE ABSTINENCE AND COGNITIVE STRESS IN HABITUAL SMOKERS
 
Al'Absi, M., University of Minnesota School of Medicine, USA
 
Female smokers report more distress after exposure to acute stressful situations than do male smokers. Women also have more difficulties maintaining smoking abstinence than men. Differences in psychobiological factors related to responses to stressful events may contribute to these effects. We measured blood pressure (BP), salivary cortisol, and withdrawal symptoms after a period of smoking abstinence or ad libitum smoking, during rest and in response to acute stress. Thirty smokers (15 women and 15 men) participated in two laboratory sessions conducted on two days (Abstinence and ad libitum smoking). Abstinence produced significant withdrawal symptoms in all participants (p <0.01). Women reported greater desire to smoke than men (p <0.05). Participants showed greater BP responses to the behavioral challenges in the abstinence condition than the control condition (p<.01). They also showed worse cognitive performance in the abstinence than in the smoking condition (p<.001). Men had greater salivary cortisol levels than women (p<.05), and both men and women showed the expected decline across time (p<.0001), but showed no difference between the abstinence and smoking conditions (p > 0.2). These results indicate that abstinence alters mood, performance, and BP responses to acute cognitive stress similarly across genders. It is possible that these changes mediate stress-related vulnerability to smoking relapse in men and women. (This research was supported by grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health # DA013435 and # CA 88272 to Dr. al'Absi).