Differences in Brain Activity May Explain Why Some People Find It Harder Than Others to Quit Smoking

Why are some people able to quit smoking with relative ease while others try 30 times or more to give up the habit? The latest research into smoking may provide some of the answers.

Time Magazine reports about a new study, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, that found that some smokers have differences in the areas of their brains that control urges and cravings. The area of the brain is called the insula. These differences may explain why it is easier for some people to quit while others struggle.

Researchers in the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences department at Duke University School of Medicine conducted a study in which they examined brain differences in people that are able to give up smoking relatively easy as compared with those that have more of a problem quitting. The study consisted of 85 smokers that use more than 10 cigarettes a day. The smokers all had MRI scans run on their brains. Then, they were assigned randomly to either continue to smoke their brand of cigarettes or to smoke low-nicotine cigarettes. All participants were given nicotine replacement therapy for 30 days. Then, they were told to quit smoking and were given nicotine replacement only for 10 weeks.

The study found that those people that relapsed during the study tended to have lower activity in the insula area of the brain. Those who were able to successfully quit had stronger activity in this area of the brain. This research helps explain why some people are better able to quit than others. It might be able to be used in the future to identify people who have a more difficult time quitting and to provide them with additional supportive measures to help them quit, such as helping them ease off smoking with e-cigarettes.