Within the mind of every smoker trying to quit rages a battle between the higher-order functions of the brain wanting to break the habit and the lower-order functions desiring another cigarette, say researchers at Duke University Medical Center. More often than not, that cigarette gets lit.
Brain scans of smokers studied by the researchers revealed three specific regions deep within the brain that appear to control dependence on nicotine and craving for cigarettes. These regions play important roles in some of the key motivations for smoking: to calm down when stressed, to achieve pleasure, and to help concentration.
“If you can’t calm down, can’t derive pleasure and can’t control yourself or concentrate, then it will be extremely difficult for you to break the habit,” said lead study investigator Jed E. Rose, PhD, director of the Duke Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research. “These brain regions may explain why most people try to quit several times before they are successful.”
Understanding how the brain responds to cigarette cravings can help doctors change nicotine cessation treatments to address all three of these components of withdrawal, Rose said. Drugs or therapies that target these regions may help smokers stave off the cravings that often spoil their attempts to quit.
The team’s findings are now online in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. The research was funded by Phillip Morris USA.