Most smokers want to quit, and who can blame them? It’s a horrible habit, expensive, and destroys your health. Two new studies have revealed ways that can make stopping this habit easier.
A prevailing question in regards to smoking is how some people can quit more easily than others. A new study that looks at the brains and behavior of smokers could give an explanation for this.
Examination of smoker’s brains shows that some have a rich network of neurons in the area that controls cravings, which is known as the insula. This part of the brain controls the desire a smoker has to light a cigarette after seeing one or smelling tobacco.
A study that took place at Duke University School of Medicine followed a number of smokers who smoked more than 10 cigarettes daily. They were told to either continue smoking their current cigarettes, or switch to low-nicotine and have nicotine replacement therapy for one month. After this month, everyone was told to stop and switched to nicotine replacements for the following ten weeks.
Those who successfully stopped smoking during this period showed higher activity in their insula, while people who relapsed showed less activity in the insula and the motor areas that translate cravings into action. This study has given researchers a better idea of what kind of mechanisms drive cravings.
This study could help identify people who will have more difficulties quitting by examining the activity that they have in their insula. These people can be given more support while they try to stop their habit.
While this connection between the brain and smoking has been discovered, it is not yet known how much this can be used to help smokers quit. The brain is very complicated and connections within it can be disrupted, changing how easily a person can quit.
Some scientists think that more connections in these sections of the brain can promote interactions between cravings and behavior and also inhibit these urges.
Even if smoker’s don’t have these rich connections, it’s still possible for them to quit. Nicotine replacement therapy, coupled with a rewards program that gives participants money if they are able to stay away from smoking for certain periods of time, proved to be a very successful method. It proved better than a similar program which required participants to pay money, which they would get back if they hadn’t smoked by the end of the program. The deposit program, however, was still more productive than those which only provided counseling and nicotine replacement.
Having a reward, whether it was the participants’ own money or a prize, provides extra incentive to stopping. Providing a reward, even one of only a few hundred dollars, works well in the long run. Smokers have more health problems and cost more in health services. So offering rewards to have them quit saves money in the long run.
The more scientists look into how to quit smoking, the healthier we’ll all be.