Quitting smoking when you've had a trauma or suffer from PTSD: New research!

Quit smoking, PTSD, ACT.

My colleagues and I just published a new pilot study on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for Smoking Cessation in Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If you've been trying to quit smoking and you experience some symptoms related to trauma, you may be having a more difficult time quitting. In the Veteran population, Veterans with PTSD are 2-3 times more likely to smoke cigarettes or tobacco products than the general population. This tends to be true, as well, for the non-Veteran population among those who have PTSD or some trauma symptoms.

So what was this study all about? The study participants (Veterans who smoked more than 15 cigarettes/day and had a diagnosis of PTSD) engaged in 9 weekly sessions of ACT individual therapy and used the nicotine patch. The ACT sessions encouraged acceptance of uncomfortable emotions, cravings, and bodily sensations related to both quitting smoking and PTSD. The sessions focused on values related to quitting smoking, mindfulness exercises like mindful breathing, and making a plan to manage internal and external triggers. The participants also engaged in some experiential exercises like Dr. Bricker describes in his TED talk

What did we learn from the study? 

  • Study participants rated the treatment highly and typically stuck with it for all 9 sessions. Basically, people liked the treatment and thought it helped!
  • Study participants made several attempts to quit smoking during the study and were more confident that they could quit smoking when asked three months after the study. Participating in the study helped to boost their motivation and confidence.
  • At the end of the study, 37% of participants had quit smoking. Three months after the study, 16% were still abstinent from smoking. Promising results, as Veterans with PTSD who engage in standard smoking cessation treatment quit at a rate of around 8%!
  • Study participants reported a reduced need to smoke to relieve PTSD symptoms or smoking urges. 
  • Also, symptoms of PTSD were reduced, even though the study did not directly "treat" the trauma. 
  • Overall, the acceptance and mindfulness skills learned in the study helped the participants feel less distressed by smoking urges and PTSD symptoms and live more in accordance with their values!

Kelly, M. M., Sido, H., Forsyth, J. P., Ziedonis, D. M., Kalman, D., & Cooney, J. L. (2014). Acceptance and commitment therapy smoking cessation treatment for Veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder: A pilot study. Journal of Dual Diagnosis.  DOI: 10.1080/15504263.2014.992201

Find the original study here

If you are interested in trying ACT for smoking cessation and/or PTSD, contact me. I do individual, group, and online smoking cessation and trauma counseling in my practice for both Illinois and Rhode Island residents. You can also visit psychotherapy services to learn more!