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Nicotine Tob Res. 2009 Feb;11(2):185-9. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntn028. Epub 2009 Feb 25.

Withdrawal in adolescent light smokers following 24-hour abstinence.

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Division of Adolescent Medicine, University of California-San Francisco, 3333 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA.



Withdrawal is one of the most important symptoms of nicotine addiction. We examined the extent to which adolescent light smokers experienced withdrawal symptoms when deprived of nicotine for a 24-hr period.


A total of 20 adolescents aged 13-17 years who smoked 1-5 cigarettes/day (CPD) refrained from smoking for a 24-hr period. Withdrawal scales were administered, and heart rate was measured at baseline, 12, and 24 hr. Neuropsychological testing was performed at baseline and 24 hr. Participants were divided into two groups: very light smokers (1-3 CPD) and light smokers (4-5 CPD).


At 12 hr, very light smokers experienced a decrease in withdrawal symptoms versus light smokers, who reported an increase in symptoms (-2.9 vs. 2.8, p = .02). Similarly, at 24 hr, very light smokers experienced a mean decrease in withdrawal score compared with a mean increase for the light smoker group (-2.2 vs. 5.8, p = .04). We did not find a significant change in heart rate or any differences in participants' scores on the memory or concentration tasks.


Based on our findings in this controlled laboratory experiment, adolescent very light smokers did not appear to have significant withdrawal symptoms following abstinence from nicotine. Adolescent light smokers who smoke 4-5 CPD experienced subjective withdrawal symptoms but did not have objective signs of nicotine withdrawal. The stage of smoking in which adolescents are smoking 5 CPD or fewer appears to be a crucial time for studying development of nicotine addiction in teens as they may be transitioning from social smoking to early addiction.

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