Campus News Health & Wellness Society & Culture

Treatment for nicotine addiction inconsistent across the country

Athens, Ga. – Researchers at the University of Georgia have received a five-year, $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate the disparity in available treatment programs for nicotine addiction across the country.

“Some facilities have a policy that includes treatment for smokers, but the programs often aren’t implemented,” said Jessica Muilenburg, an assistant professor in the UGA College of Public Health. “Other programs don’t consider nicotine a dangerous drug-or they look at it as a less-important side issue, so may or may not address it in conjunction with another addiction.”

Muilenburg heads the study along with UGA psychology professor, Lillian Eby. The researchers will look at which facilities provide evidence-based treatment for nicotine addicted patients, including low-income clients. They also will investigate the attitudes and influence of counselors, who researchers say have considerable discretion about whether or not to address nicotine dependence in patients.

“We want to learn how the organizational structure in treatment facilities supports or discourages treatment for nicotine, which is among the most common and also most harmful drugs,” said Muilenburg “We will survey counselors about their incentives or disincentives for addressing nicotine, find out how it translates into treatment, and if so, how effective is that treatment?”

Research shows that alcohol and other substance abuse often go hand-in-hand with smoking. In fact, the vast majority of people in drug treatment programs-some 70 to 95 percent-also smoke (compared to about 21 percent in the general population). What’s more, most of these people started smoking earlier-and are more likely to be heavy smokers who have difficulty quitting.

Numerous studies have shown that quit rates for smokers are higher when they seek formal treatment rather than trying to quit on their own. For this reason, researchers believe that most clients-but especially low-income clients with less access to treatment-have a better chance of quitting nicotine while already in treatment for another drug addiction.

“Clients seeking substance abuse treatment are already making behavior and lifestyle changes that not only support drug abstinence but also smoking cessation,” said Muilenburg.

Other UGA investigators include psychologist James MacKillop; management professor Robert Vandenburg; and sociologist Paul Roman, all from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. Outside collaborators include J. Aaron Johnson, department of family medicine at Mercer University; and Hannah K. Knudsen, department of behavioral sciences at the University of Kentucky.