Professors given $675,000 to help smokers snuff tobacco for good
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has awarded professors Michael Zvolensky and Peter Norton with a $675,000 grant to research therapy methods that can help those with anxiety disorders quit smoking.
Cigarette smoking, accounting for more than 440,000 deaths, is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Due to new nicotine replacement therapies and advertising campaigns to show the consequences of smoking, rates of tobacco use stabilized but the rate of addiction did not change.
“We have treated all the easy people,” Zvolensky said. “Those left were the complicated cases with something else going on.”
Currently, there are no treatment plans that target those who want to quit smoking but have other ailments.
“What we know from our research is that people who smoke often have anxiety and other mental disorders and vice versa,” Zvolensky said. “Existing treatment plans for smoking cessation have not addressed anxiety and stress disorders in any formal or meaningful way.”
The research will follow 60 adults, ages 18 to 65, with anxiety disorders who smoke at least 10 cigarettes a day, have smoked for at least a year and who are willing to make an attempt to quit within 30 days of the start of the study.
Zvolensky, a Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz distinguished university professor in the department of clinical psychology, and Norton, an associated professor of psychology, will serve as co-principal investigators for the study.
“The significance of this research is developing an effective smoking cessation treatment that targets people with anxiety disorders, so they will be smoke-free,” Zvolensky said. “The second goal is reducing the amount of use, also known as harm reduction.”
Norton says that since many people smoke to reduce their anxiety, the treatment plan will combine a program with evidence-based anxiety disorder treatments, to reduce smoking and keep people from relapsing.
“You don’t have to view things as complete abstinence to be successful,” Zvolensky said. “That’s important in the case of tobacco in particular. Even simple reductions from 20 to 10 or from 10 to five cigarettes a day could have a linear decrease in exposure to a lot of other negative outcomes.”