Biological Mechanisms Underlying the Relationship between Stress and Smoking: State of the Science and Directions for Future Work

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HPA axis, Stress, Cortisol, Autonomic nervous system, Smoking, Nicotine dependence

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Theories of addiction implicate stress as a crucial mechanism underlying initiation, maintenance, and relapse to cigarette smoking. Examinations of the biological stress systems, including functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the autonomic nervous system (ANS), have provided additional insights into the relationship between stress and smoking. To date, convergent data suggests that chronic cigarette smoking is associated with alterations in HPA and ANS functioning; however, less is known about the role of HPA and ANS functioning in smoking initiation and relapse following cessation. In order to organize existing findings and stimulate future research, the current paper summarizes the available literature on the roles of HPA axis and ANS functioning in the relationship between stress and cigarette smoking, highlights limitations within the existing literature, and suggests directions for future research to address unanswered questions in the extant literature on the biological mechanisms underlying the relationship between stress and smoking.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Biological Psychology, v. 88, issue 1, p. 1-12