Smoking abstinence research receives major financial boost

August 5, 2013, Virginia Tech

Warren Bickel, an internationally recognized addiction expert at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, recently received a $3.2-million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse for research on improving self-control in smokers seeking to quit cigarettes. The grant will provide Bickel's team with $573,000 to $716,000 a year over five years to develop innovative new ways to enhance the smokers' ability to abstain from acting on their nicotine cravings.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of mortality and morbidity in the United States. Each year it contributes to nearly half a million deaths, more than those attributable to alcohol, , homicide, AIDS, and suicide combined. The medical and of smoking represent a substantial part of the overall in southwest Virginia and the entire nation.

"The fix seems simple," said Bickel, a professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, where he also directs the Addiction Recovery Research Center. "Rather than only spending billions of dollars treating the cancers and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases associated with tobacco use, we also need to get people to stop smoking. Yet is extremely potent."

Bickel, who is also a professor of psychology at Virginia Tech and a professor of psychiatry and at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, has devoted much of his scientific career to understanding addiction. His research focuses primarily on that support dysfunctional decision-making, and he places special emphasis on future discounting, the human instinct to choose over a later benefit, such as good health.

Bickel noted that an important component of is a failure of self-control, which occurs when a drug hijacks the brain's reward systems.

"Addiction can distort decision-making by causing the brain to overvalue immediate, drug-associated stimuli and undervalue longer-term rewards," Bickel said. "This excessive discounting of the future is associated with poor treatment outcomes. Our research has shown that people who relapse the most are those who discount the future the most. We speculate that smokers who can't envision the future well are those stuck in their immediate circumstances. So a nicotine craving has an exaggerated effect on them."

Bickel's research team will recruit hundreds of smokers into the study and characterize the degree to which they discount the future. The scientists will then compare the volunteers who discount the future the most with those who discount it the least. If, as Bickel suspects, the ones who discount the future the most are the ones most susceptible to smoking-related cues during mild tobacco withdrawal, the researchers will help them build resistance by offering a range of behavioral exercises – such as training aimed at enhancing working memory – that Bickel's previous research has shown to be effective in helping people envision a longer-term future.

The newly funded study will be the first to apply findings on self-control failure – discoveries that have largely been made by Bickel's team – into effective interventions to bolster resistance to nicotine cues among smokers.

"We're hoping to develop powerful new methods to help the brain overcome addiction," Bickel said. "We want to bring the power of science into people's daily struggles to stop smoking."

"In a time of tight funding for medical research in the United States, the competition to win such a major peer-reviewed research grant is fierce, with less than 10 percent of the very best proposals receiving funding," said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the research institute and associate provost for health sciences at Virginia Tech. "We're very fortunate to have an addiction expert of Dr. Bickel's caliber here at the institute. His research not only addresses a major health issue in southwest Virginia, but it also helps us better understand the human brain. It will contribute to improving health and reducing medical costs throughout the country and around the world."

Explore further: Addiction researcher optimistic about new, highly visual labels that show ill effects of smoking

Related Stories

Addiction researcher optimistic about new, highly visual labels that show ill effects of smoking

June 27, 2011
By presenting the concrete reality of what will happen as a result of smoking, the new anti-smoking warnings that will show up on packs of cigarettes next year have a good chance of discouraging smoking, said Warren Bickel, ...

Coke addicts prefer money in hand to snowy future

August 11, 2011
When a research team asked cocaine addicts to choose, hypothetically, between money now or cocaine of greater value later, "preference was almost exclusively for the money now," said Warren K., Bickel, professor in the Virginia ...

Researchers explore genetic links between nicotine, cancer using 'next-generation sequencing'

July 29, 2013
Researchers at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute have taken a closer look at the role that nicotine plays in cancer, finding new consequences of nicotine stress on breast tissue and insight into the influence of nicotine ...

Study finds that smokers who try e-cigarettes to quit are younger and more motivated to quit

July 23, 2013
University of Hawaii Cancer Center Prevention and Control Program researchers Pallav Pokhrel, PhD and Thaddeus Herzog, PhD have found that smokers who use e-cigarettes as a tool to stop smoking tend to be younger and more ...

Study of cigarette and waterpipe tobacco smoking shows knowledge gap in perceived health risks

September 25, 2012
People who smoke both cigarettes and waterpipes – dual users – lack sufficient knowledge about the risks of tobacco smoking and are at considerable risk for dependence and tobacco-related diseases, such as cancer, heart ...

Recommended for you

Group suggests pushing age of adolescence to 24

January 22, 2018
A small group of researchers with the Royal Children's Hospital in Australia is suggesting that it might be time to change the span of years that define adolescence—from the current 10 to 19 to a proposed 10 to 24 years ...

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.