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Drug Alcohol Depend. 2010 Jan 1;106(1):61-4. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2009.07.020. Epub 2009 Sep 5.

Working memory deficits predict short-term smoking resumption following brief abstinence.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, United States.


As many as one-half of smokers relapse in the first week following a quit attempt, and subjective reports of cognitive deficits in early abstinence are associated with increased relapse risk. This study examined whether objective cognitive performance after 3 days of abstinence predicts smoking resumption in a 7-day simulated quit attempt. Sixty-seven treatment-seeking smokers received either varenicline or placebo (randomized double-blind) for 21 days. Following medication run-up (days 1-10), there was a 3-day mandatory (biochemically confirmed) abstinence period (days 11-13) during which working memory (Letter-N-Back Task) and sustained attention (Continuous Performance Task) were assessed (day 13). Participants were then exposed to a scheduled smoking lapse and instructed to try to remain abstinent for the next 7 days (days 15-21). Poorer cognitive performance (slower correct reaction time on Letter-N-Back task) during abstinence predicted more rapid smoking resumption among those receiving placebo (p=0.038) but not among those receiving varenicline. These data lend further support for the growing recognition that cognitive deficits involving working memory are a core symptom of nicotine withdrawal and a potential target for the development of pharmacological and behavioral treatments.

Copyright 2009 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

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