Cigarette craving usually occurs in conjunction with unpleasant feelings, including stress, as part of a withdrawal syndrome. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), a behavioral technique used to reduce stress by concentrating on achieving muscle relaxation, may reduce levels of cigarette craving and other substance-related negative feelings and withdrawal symptoms.
Demographic and cigarette use data were collected from 32 experienced smokers at the King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, Bangkok, Thailand using the Semi-Structured Assessment for Drug Dependence and Alcoholism. Participants were asked to refrain from smoking for at least 3 hours before the visit (acute abstinence) and were randomly allocated to a 1-session PMR group (n = 16) or a control activity group (e.g., reading newspaper, n = 16). The intervention group was instructed to practice PMR individually in a quiet, private, air-conditioned room for about 20 minutes. Craving, other substance-related feelings, and autonomic nervous responses (e.g., blood pressure and pulse rate) were assessed immediately before and after the 1-session intervention.
There were no differences in demographics, cigarette use/dependence, and baseline craving characteristics between the PMR and control groups. However, the control group had higher levels of high and paranoia feeling, and pulse rate than the PMR group at baseline. After practicing PMR, but not after a control activity, smokers undergoing acute abstinence had significantly lower levels of cigarette craving, withdrawal symptoms, and systolic blood pressure than at baseline. After controlling for baseline differences, abstaining smokers using PMR had lower levels of cigarette craving, withdrawal symptoms, and systolic blood pressure than smokers who undertook a control activity.
PMR significantly reduces cigarette craving, withdrawal symptoms, and blood pressure in smokers undergoing acute abstinence. PMR may be used as an adjunct to cigarette dependency treatments.