The effects of nicotine dependence and acute abstinence on the processing of drug and non-drug rewards

W Lawn, T P Freeman, C Hindocha, C Mokrysz, R K Das, C J A Morgan, H V Curran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (SciVal)


RATIONALE: Drug addiction may be characterised by a hypersensitivity to drug rewards and a hyposensitivity to non-drug rewards. This imbalance may become further polarised during acute abstinence.

OBJECTIVES: (i) Examine the differences between dependent and occasional smokers in choices for, motivation for and self-reported wanting and liking of cigarette and non-drug rewards. (ii) Examine the effects of 12-h nicotine abstinence on these metrics.

METHODS: Dependent (n = 20) and occasional, non-dependent smokers (n = 20) were tested after ad libitum smoking and ≥12-h of nicotine abstinence. A novel task was developed (Drug, Reward and Motivation-Choice (DReaM-Choice)) in which different rewards (cigarettes, music and chocolate) could be won. In each trial, participants chose between two rewards and then could earn the chosen reward via repeated button-pressing. Participants subsequently 'consumed' and rated subjective liking of the rewards they had won.

RESULTS: Compared with occasional smokers, dependent smokers made more choices for (p < 0.001), pressed more for (p = 0.046) and reported more wanting (p = 0.007) and liking (p < 0.001) of cigarettes, and also made fewer choices for chocolate (p = 0.005). There were no differences between the groups on button-pressing for chocolate or music. However, the balance between drug and non-drug reward processing was different between the groups across all metrics. Twelve-hour nicotine abstinence led to more cigarette choices (p < 0.001) and fewer music choices (p = 0.042) in both groups.

CONCLUSIONS: Nicotine dependence was associated with a hypersensitivity to cigarette rewards, but we found little evidence indicating a hyposensitivity to non-drug rewards. Our findings question the moderating influence of dependence on how acute nicotine abstinence affects reward processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2503-2517
Number of pages15
Issue number14
Early online date12 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015


  • Carbon Monoxide/metabolism
  • Choice Behavior/drug effects
  • Craving
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Depression/psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation/drug effects
  • Nicotine/pharmacology
  • Pleasure/drug effects
  • Psychomotor Performance/drug effects
  • Reading
  • Reward
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome/psychology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder/psychology
  • Young Adult


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