Depression and smoking relapse: Anhedonia doesn’t feel good.

A recent study published in the Journal Nicotine & Tobacco research suggests that a particular aspect of depression, namely anhedonia, a.k.a “inability to feel good,” plays an important part in predicting how quickly smokers will relapse after trying to quit smoking. When it comes to addiction research, you can’t get much clearer than these results.

Quitting is smoking is difficult, especially when you're depressed.

The researchers specified a number of factors in depression including: negative affect (feeling down), vegetative state (not moving much), and anhedonia, measuring that last one by making participants rate their expected pleasure to hypothetical pleasurable situations they were asked to imagine. They then split up the participants into three different treatment conditions that included slightly different procedures meant to help them quit smoking. All participants quit smoking immediately after attending the one-day assessment and instruction session. Following that day everyone returned to the lab after 24 hrs, 48 hrs, and then weekly for a total of four weeks to assess their smoking using fancy lab equipment.

When the researchers looked at the results, they saw that when separated into “high-anhedonia” and “low-anhedonia” groups, participants in the “high-anhedonia” group relapsed to smoking much more quickly, even when controlling for depression symptoms before quitting. In fact, 20 days after that initial session, more than half of the “low-anhedonia” participants were still not smoking while essentially none of the “high-anhedonia” participants had managed to quit.

As if it is isn’t hard enough to quit smoking, apparently, feeling like $&%@ just makes it harder… Hey, I never said addiction research would always bring good news!


Cook, Spring, McChargue, and Doran (2010). Effects of anhedonia on days to relapse among smokers with a history of depression: A brief report. Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

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