Varenicline may aid smoking cessation by attenuating smoking behavior and reward. We compared the effects of varenicline versus placebo on smoking behavior and reward, assessed both prospectively and retrospectively, and related these effects to subsequent success in a brief simulated quit attempt with medication.
Materials and methods
Smokers (n=124) with high or low interest in quitting smoking participated in a double-blind crossover study of varenicline versus placebo effects on smoking behavior and reward. In each of two phases, subjects received a week of medication run-up with varenicline (0.5 mg, b.i.d.) or placebo while continuing to smoke, followed the next week by an attempt to quit while on medication. At the end of each run-up week, subjects completed retrospective measures of smoking reward (liking) and number of cigarettes over the prior 24 hrs, and they provided an expired air carbon monoxide (CO) measure. They then completed a prospective session in which they ad lib smoked and rated the rewarding effects of one of their preferred cigarettes while blind to brand.
Varenicline decreased smoking reward significantly in the prospective assessment, but only marginally in the retrospective assessment. Varenicline did not alter smoking behavior prospectively, but did reduce CO and retrospective report of smoking amount. None of these effects of varenicline predicted subsequent days of abstinence due to varenicline.
During medication run-up, varenicline decreases acute smoking reward and may attenuate smoking behavior, but these effects do not appear to directly predict varenicline’s influence on smoking abstinence in a short-term test.
Keywords: Smoking, Varenicline, Reward, Smoking cessation, Nicotine dependence