New research may help smokers with chronic pain quit

Jun 11, 2015

It sometimes can be more difficult for a smoker to quit the habit if they’re in chronic pain. A Syracuse University graduate student has won a federal grant to figure out a way to change that.

There can be a vicious circle when it comes to pain and smoking according to SU graduate student Emily Zale.

"Smokers are more likely to develop chronic pain and they may experience worse pain and have more disability that goes along with their pain, and in turn the pain may actually motivate continued smoking,” Zale says. “And may actually be a barrier in quitting.” 

To break that circle, Zale is leading a team of like-minded researchers.

Because some smokers may not be aware that smoking and nicotine can make their pain worse, she believes that educating can help convince them to quit.  Next, there could be an intervention that recognizes an important part of the problem – that during acute nicotine withdrawal, the pain for a quitter can become worse.

Zale thinks that planning ahead could help this fact. She thinks her team can come up with an intervention to help smokers avoid any increase in pain that comes from withdrawal.

"We may need to up the dosage of nicotine replacement therapy, for example, to help stave off some of those physiological withdrawal symptoms that could increase their pain,” she says. “So we’re actually executing a programmatic line of research across multiple disciplines to examine each of these individual factors.”

A National Institute of Health grant is paying for the research.