Does tobacco abstinence decrease reward sensitivity? A human laboratory test

John R. Hughes, Alan J. Budney, Sharon R. Muellers, Dustin C. Lee, Peter W. Callas, Stacey C. Sigmon, James R. Fingar, Jeff Priest

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Introduction: Animal studies report abstinence from nicotine makes rewards less rewarding; however the results of human tests of the effects of cessation on reward sensitivity are mixed. The current study tested reward sensitivity in abstinent smokers using more rigorous methods than most prior studies. Methods: A human laboratory study compared outcomes for 1 week prior to quitting to those during 4 weeks postquit. The study used smokers trying to quit, objective and subjective measures multiple measures during smoking and abstinence, and monetary rewards to increase the prevalence of abstinence. Current daily smokers (n = 211) who were trying to quit completed an operant measure of reward sensitivity and a survey of pleasure from various rewards as well as self-reports of anhedonia, delay discounting, positive affect, and tobacco withdrawal twice each week. A comparison group of long-term former smokers (n = 67) also completed the tasks weekly for 4 weeks. Primary analyses were based on the 61 current smokers who abstained for all 4 weeks. Results: Stopping smoking decreased self-reported pleasure from rewards but did not decrease reward sensitivity on the operant task. Abstinence also decreased self-reported reward frequency and increased the two anhedonia measures. However, the changes with abstinence were small for all outcomes (6%-14%) and most lasted less than a week. Conclusions: Abstinence from tobacco decreased most self-report measures of reward sensitivity; however, it did not change the objective measure. The self-report effects were small. Implications: Animal research suggests that nicotine withdrawal decreases reward sensitivity. Replication tests of this in humans have produced inconsistent results. We report what we believe is a more rigorous test. We found smoking abstinence slightly decreases self-reports of reward sensitivity but does not do so for a behavioral measure of reward sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)677-685
Number of pages9
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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