Nov. 20 (UPI) -- Some smokers can make up to 30 attempts before they ultimately quit, while others fall off the wagon due to emotional exhaustion.
That's what authors of a study published in the November issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology call "cessation fatigue." Their work attempts to predict which smokers will likely stop fighting urges to smoke and fall off the wagon.
"We all know the stories of people who have tried and tried but repeatedly failed. Think about the cognitive and emotional toll that must take," Matthew J. Carpenter, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Medical University of South Carolina and senior author on the article, said in a press release. "People get burnt out or exhausted from making repeated attempts and this study shows that has an effect on smoking cessation milestones."
The study measured a spike in cessation fatigue within the first six weeks of a smoker's attempt to quit. Smokers with higher cessation fatigue took longer to make an attempt to quit or were more likely to relapse after they did attempt. Within that group, the likelihood that they could go through a two-month period without smoking for a week decreased drastically.
This matters because smoking cessation fatigue has risen even as the indicators of relapse, like withdrawal symptoms, have fallen.
"This could be like a triage where you could quickly give it to people and see where they're at on this fatigue level," said Bryan W. Heckman, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at MUSC, in a press release. "If they're high or elevated, then that might be an intervention point to help them reduce their fatigue."
Today, only 14 percent of Americans smoke, and more than 40 percent of smokers never attempt to quit.
Each year, the habit costs the U.S. more than $300 billions in healthcare costs and more than 480,000 in lost lives, according to the NIH.
Some drugs currently on the market to fight the addiction can also fight cessation fatigue, experts say.
But technology can also play a part in curbing the problem.
mSmoke-free, and other mobile health applications, are designed to help smokers relieve the stress of quitting.
"Using these mHealth technologies, we both automate and personalize," adds Carpenter. "Instead of giving blanket advice to twenty people, we can tailor therapy to each individual."
Heckman, the first author of the study, is examining the development of apps that send smart phone alerts to smokers who feel urges to smoke in certain locations. When approaching those areas, the app would trigger a push alert reminding the smoker to take a nicotine lozenge.
"If we automate treatment using apps and reduce the amount of effort that people need to put into quit attempts, that could end up reducing fatigue over time," says Heckman.
Carpenter and Heckman want to take their next study further by studying the use of mHealth technologies to reduce cessation fatigue. They also want to explore cessation fatigue in people attempting to quit the abuse of other substances.
"I don't think this is just about addictions and smoking," says Carpenter. "This is about health behavior change. Think about anything that anybody tries to do that's hard. It takes time. To say that you're going to be one hundred percent committed on every day of your life in that attempt is folly. It's a process. It takes a toll on you. Now we can look at this as a process and quantify that fatigue over time and see how it matters."