Use of technology to improve health care is on the upswing. A new mobile application is helping researchers determine why it is easy for some, and so difficult for others, to stop smoking.
In their study, researchers discovered that for some, the urge to smoke never receded in some individuals while for others, the cravings dropped almost immediately.
“One thing that really stood out among the relapsers is how their urge to smoke just never dropped, in contrast to those who were successful in quitting for a month — their urge dropped quickly and systematically — almost immediately upon quitting,” said Stephanie Lanza, Ph.D., scientific director of The Methodology Center at Penn State. “That was surprising to see.”
In the study, Penn State researchers are using smart phones to capture data five times a day at random intervals. The mobile devices prompt participants to answer questions on topics ranging from their current emotional state, their urge to smoke at that moment in time, and if they were smoking.
Using this data collection method, the researchers collected data from subjects in their natural environments.
With a new statistical model to interpret data and the ability to collect data via mobile devices, the researchers looked at how baseline nicotine dependence and negative emotional states influenced people’s urge to smoke while they were trying to quit.
In the current study, Dr. Saul Shiffman, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, followed 304 long-term cigarette smokers as they tried to quit. On average, the participants smoked more than a pack a day for 23 years.
Forty participants quit smoking for the initial 24 hours, but subsequently relapsed. During the two weeks after quitting, 207 participants remained relatively tobacco-free.
If smokers relapsed but smoked less than five cigarettes per day, they were considered successful quitters in this study. The remaining 57 participants were unable to quit for even 24 hours.
Researchers followed subjects for two weeks prior to their attempt to quit, and for four weeks after their attempt to quit, the researchers report online in Prevention Science.
“To me, the biggest innovation here is looking at how something like baseline dependence is predictive of that behavior over time or (specifically) the urge to smoke over time,” said Lanza.
The team found that those who successfully quit during the four-week study period had a weaker association between their urge to smoke and their ability to quit. However, those who were unable to abstain did not show any association between their urge to smoke and their self-confidence.
“It’s now expressed as a function of time. Instead of saying ‘if you’re higher on dependence you’re going to have a higher urge to smoke over time,’ you can now depict how that association between baseline dependence and urge to smoke varies with time in a very fluid and naturalistic way.”
One advantage of this model is that researchers are not confined to changes in one dimension. Researchers can look at time in a smooth way, viewing it as a gradual and constant variable and simultaneously view two or more variables that can change over time, such as smoking urges and negative affect. Lanza noted that this method could be used to look at addiction and behavior in many other areas, such as obesity, alcohol dependence, stress and more.
“Our goal is to work hand-in-hand with tobacco (and other) researchers, to help them understand these really intricate processes that are happening,” said Lanza. “We want to really understand addiction and how to break addiction, so that interventions can be targeted and adaptable.”
Source: Penn State