Cigarette smoking is a well-known public health concern, and there is an urgent need to develop new treatments to reduce smoking or facilitate abstinence. One factor that is known to contribute to relapse is stress, making the stress response an important target for treatment. The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) is believed to have stress-reducing effects, and in addition there is evidence that it reduces drug craving. The purpose of the present study was to examine the effects of intranasal oxytocin on stress-induced cigarette craving in regular smokers after 12 hours of abstinence.
Daily smokers (n= 48) completed a stress induction task and a non-stressful control task at two different sessions, receiving intranasal OT (40 IU) or placebo (PBO) before or after the task. Subjects were randomly assigned to one of three groups: Group PP (N=16) received PBO before and after the stress/control tasks, Group OP (N=16) received OT before the tasks and PBO after, and Group PO (N=16) received PBO before the tasks and OT shortly after completing the tasks. Cigarette craving as well as subjective and physiological responses to stress were assessed.
OT did not alter responses to stress, whether it was administered before or after the stressful task, on measures of cigarette craving, anxiety, heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.
The current study findings do not support several previous reports that OT reduced either stress or drug craving.
This study finds a null result of the neuropeptide oxytocin on stress-induced cigarette craving. Reporting null findings is part of the process of identifying potential treatments for addictive disorders.