Orange Alert

Ph.D. Student Awarded Grant to Help People in Pain Quit Smoking

Psychology student Emily Zale develops intervention for smokers with chronic pain

May 29, 2015, by Robert M Enslin

Emily Zale
Emily Zale

A Ph.D. student in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences is using a grant award to help people in pain quit smoking.

Emily Zale, a student in the Clinical Psychology Program in the Department of Psychology, has been awarded a Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She will use the prestigious award to adapt and test a brief intervention to increase the motivation to quit smoking among those with chronic pain.

The project is co-sponsored by Joseph Ditre, assistant professor of psychology, and Stephen Maisto, professor of psychology, and is being carried out in conjunction with the Center for Integrated Healthcare at the Syracuse Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“There is mounting evidence that smokers in pain represent a large and important subgroup of people who experience unique barriers to and greater difficulty with quitting smoking,” says Zale, adding that pain and tobacco smoking are considered critical national health problems. “It is our hope that an intervention designed to address these unique needs will increase motivation to quit among smokers who experience chronic pain.” 

Studies show that smokers generally experience greater levels of pain intensity and disability, compared to nonsmokers. Although evidence suggests that quitting smoking may ultimately improve pain outcomes, a vast majority of smokers are not ready to engage in a serious quit attempt.

Zale says that existing treatments for smoking cessation, including medication and counseling, double a smoker’s chance of quitting; however, most smokers attempt to quit without the aid of available interventions. She seeks to address these problems by developing and testing a brief intervention aimed at increasing motivation to quit smoking and willingness to engage available smoking cessation treatments.

"The intervention is designed to increase participants’ knowledge of pain-smoking interrelations and to help them understand how continued smoking may interfere with their desired pain outcomes," she says. "It’s our hypothesis that smokers in pain become more motivated to quit and seek treatment, once they understand how smoking increases their pain."

Ditre and Maisto are enthusiastic about the study, which integrates and applies scientific findings to clinical practice. They also applaud its cross-disciplinary, translational approach.

“This award enables Emily to receive training from experts in the treatment of addictive behaviors and chronic medical conditions, including the development and implementation of clinical trials” says Ditre, whose own research focuses on interactions between addictive behaviors and chronic medical disorders. “It is an important next step in Emily’s systematic line of research, which will facilitate further development of her research program and has the potential to inform clinical practice.”

Committed to pursuing a career as an NIH-funded researcher, Zale seeks to obtain a faculty position that enables her to study pain and substance use.

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Robert M Enslin