Distress intolerance and smoking topography in the context of a biological challenge

Samantha G. Farris, Elizabeth R. Aston, Teresa M. Leyro, Lily A. Brown, Michael J. Zvolensky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Introduction: Distress intolerance (DI), one's perceived or behavioral incapacity to withstand distress, is implicated in psychopathology and smoking. This study evaluated the effect of DI on smoking reinforcement in the context of a carbon dioxide (CO2) biological challenge. Methods: Adult daily smokers (n = 90; 48.9% female) were randomized to receive a single inhalation/ breath of 35% CO2-enriched air (n = 45) or compressed room air (n = 45). Perceived DI was assessed before the challenge. Smoking reinforcement was examined via average post-challenge puff volume across puffs and at the puff-to-puff level. Results: Higher DI was associated with an increased average puff volume (b = -4.7, p = .031). CO2 produced decreased average puff volume compared with room air (b = -7.7, p = .018). There was a DI∗ condition interaction (f2 = 0.02), such that CO2 decreased average puff volume compared with room air in smokers with higher DI (b = -13.9, t = -3.06, p = .003), but not lower DI. At the puff-topuff level, there was a significant interaction between DI, condition, and cubic time (b = 0.0003, p =. 037). Specifically, room air produced large initial puff volumes that decreased from puff to puff over the cigarette for high- and low-DI smokers. CO2 produced persistent flat volumes from puff to puff over the cigarette for higher DI smokers, whereas CO2 produced puff volumes like that of room air in lower DI smokers. Discussion: Findings suggest DI heightens smoking reinforcement generally, and in the context of intense cardiorespiratory distress, is associated with stable and persistent smoking. DI is a promising therapeutic target that, if addressed through psychological intervention, may improve cessation outcomes by decreasing smoking reinforcement. Implications: This study contributes to our understanding of the relationship between DI and smoking reinforcement, via examining these processes in response to acute cardiorespiratory distress. Specifically, we found that smokers who are less tolerant of distress, as opposed to those who are more tolerant, evince a decrease in average puff volume, and consistently low puff-to-puff volume, in response to a biological stressor. These findings suggest that smokers high in DI alter smoking behavior following acute cardiorespiratory distress, perhaps to reduce overstimulation, yet also persist in smoking in a manner that suggests an inability to achieve satiation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)568-575
Number of pages8
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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