Behavioral economic analysis of withdrawal- and cue-elicited craving for tobacco: An initial investigation

James Mackillop, Courtney L. Brown, Monika K. Stojek, Cara M. Murphy, Lawrence Sweet, Ray S. Niaura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: The role of craving in nicotine dependence remains controversial and may be a function of measurement challenges. The current study used behavioral economic approach to test the hypotheses that subjective craving from acute withdrawal and exposure to tobacco cues dynamically increases the relative value of cigarettes. Methods: Using a 2 (1-hr/12-hr deprivation) × 2 (neutral/tobacco cues) within-subjects design, 33 nicotine dependent adults completed 2 laboratory sessions. Assessment included subjective craving and behavioral economic indices of cigarette demand, namely Intensity (i.e., cigarette consumption at zero cost), Omax (i.e., maximum total expenditure), Breakpoint (i.e., highest acceptable price for cigarettes), Pmax (i.e., price at which consumption becomes sensitive to price), and elasticity (i.e., price sensitivity). Behavioral economic indices were generated using a Cigarette Purchase Task in which participants selected between cigarettes for a subsequent 2-hr self-administration period and money. Results: Main effects of deprivation and tobacco cues were present for subjective craving and multiple behavioral economic indices of cigarette demand. Interestingly, deprivation significantly increased Breakpoint (p ≤.01) and Pmax (p ≤.05) and had trend-level effects on Intensity and Omax (p ≤.10); whereas cues significantly reduced elasticity (p ≤ .01), reflecting lower sensitivity to increasing prices. Heterogeneous associations were evident among the motivational variables but with aggregations suggesting variably overlapping motivational channels. Conclusions: These findings further support a behavioral economic approach to craving and a multidimensional conception of acute motivation for addictive drugs. Methodological considerations, including potential order effects, and the need for further refinement of these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbernts006
Pages (from-to)1426-1434
Number of pages9
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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