Quitting smoking: Quitlines success

In the world of extremely difficult smoking-cessation (quitting smoking), telephone-based programs are apparently having some real success.

Quitting smoking with quitlines

According to a recent summary-analysis (we call these meta-analyses) of research done on Smoking Cessation Quitlines (CSQs), smokers who call and participate are 1.5 times more likely to quit! These are roughly the same numbers we see for people who use nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs, like the nicotine patch, gum, or lozenge), which are the most successful therapies we’ve got. Not bad when you consider that most quitlines are free to users.

What do quitlines do?

Once a user interested in quitting contacts a CSQ, they are taken through an assessment procedure. The California one is apparently pretty long, lasting 30-40 minutes. Don’t worry, the first call is the longest. Past this point, the lines’ activities vary greatly depending on the specific provider. Some offer phone-based counseling only, others also mail materials, and some offer recorded messages, on-demand counseling, counselor callback, and even access to medication (like patches, gum, or bupropion). Since state-based ones are free, it’s a good idea to make the call and see what your state offers. If you’re an addiction professional, or a psychologist with clients that want to quit smoking but can’t seem to shake it, this might be a great suggestion for them.

Can quitlines be used for other addictions?

Phone-based interventions have already been used for some addiction problems (mostly problem drinking), but usually as a supplement to face-to-face treatment. Still, given the relatively low cost associated, it seems that establishing such a tool for problem drinkers that doesn’t include a face-to-face interaction could be a viable option. Since it was state-based public health officials that made CSQs happen through lobbying, it seems that any addiction, or mental health, problem that is prevalent enough to warrant such attention (and such expenditures) may benefit from a little quitline love.


Lichtenstein, E., Zhu, S.H., Tedeschi, G.J. (2010). Smoking cessation Quitlines: An underrecognized intervention success story. American Psychologist, 65, 252-261.

More from AHSR – Addiction research to increase treatment success

Okay, there was almost too much to cover in a single post today. Actually, hold the almost. I want to cover a few of the basic things we talked about today, but many of the rest will have to be incorporated into future posts.

Yesterday, I wrote about talks having to do with new ideas about necessary steps to improve treatment. Today, the main speaker hit on one of the factors discussed yesterday:

How can we improve the length of time that patients stay in drug treatment?

We know from research that one of the best predictors of success in treatment is longer retention. Some of today’s ideas were revolutionary and some not, but here’s a partial list –

  • Plan treatment lengths that are longer – This is especially true for outpatient treatment. If patients think of longer treatment from the outset, even if they don’t hit the intended mark, they’re likely to stay longer than if no end goal was set (this is called anchoring in psychology).
  • Send out appointment reminders and make phone calls – it works for dentists and doctors!
  • Start treating to patient strengths instead of just trying to fix their weaknesses – If you’ve never heard of motivational interviewing, you should read up, it’s all there.
  • Allow patient choice in treatment – The notion that patients shouldn’t have any say in their own treatment should be seriously questioned.
  • Provide small incentives (one way this is done is known as contingency management).
  • Create contracts and provide social reinforcement (like plaques and certificates).

That’s probably a good enough list for now. If we could put all these things to use, we’d already see a significant increase in client retention AND satisfaction.

I had a great day, more tomorrow!!!