• Report

A control theory model of smoking


Bobashev, G., Holloway, J., Eric, S., & Gutkin, B. (2017). A control theory model of smoking. (RTI Press Publication No. OP-0040-1706). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press. DOI: 10.3768/rtipress.2017.op.0040.1706


We present a heuristic control theory model that describes smoking under restricted and unrestricted access to cigarettes. The model is based on the allostasis theory and uses a formal representation of a multiscale opponent process. The model simulates smoking behavior of an individual and produces both short-term (“loading up” after not smoking for a while) and long-term smoking patterns (e.g., gradual transition from a few cigarettes to one pack a day). By introducing a formal representation of withdrawal- and craving-like processes, the model produces gradual increases over time in withdrawal- and craving-like signals associated with abstinence and shows that after 3 months of abstinence, craving disappears. The model was programmed as a computer application allowing users to select simulation scenarios. The application links images of brain regions that are activated during the binge/intoxication, withdrawal, or craving with corresponding simulated states. The model was calibrated to represent smoking patterns described in peer-reviewed literature; however, it is generic enough to be adapted to other drugs, including cocaine and opioids. Although the model does not mechanistically describe specific neurobiological processes, it can be useful in prevention and treatment practices as an illustration of drug-using behaviors and expected dynamics of withdrawal and craving during abstinence.

Author Details

Georgiy Bobashev

Georgiy Bobashev, PhD, is a Fellow in RTI International’s Center for Data Science.

John Holloway

John Holloway, BFA, is a multimedia design specialist in RTI International’s Center for Forensic Sciences.

Solano Eric

Eric Solano, PhD, is a senior data scientist at Maana.

B Gutkin

Boris Gutkin, PhD, is a professor in the Group for Neural Theory in the Institut d’Etudes de la Cognition at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.