Why Is It So Hard To Quit Smoking?

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January 16, 2009

"It's easy to quit smoking. I've done it a hundred times," said Mark Twain when he tried to quit smoking his cigar back in 1800s. But as it turns out - it is always easier to say than to do it in reality.

So, if all you needed to quit smoking was the latest scientific fact - here it is. U.S.researchers led by Joseph McClernon , an associate Professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina found that there is a big change in brain activity during the time when people smoke, to the 24-hours after they drop the bad habit.

MRI brain scanning was performed to observe brain activity of smokers who tried to quit. Professor Joseph explained that the brain scan idea was important to understand why so many smoke addicts who finally managed to quit relapse so quickly. Brain scans of smokers taken before and twenty four hours after quitting showed an increased activity in one part of the brain when smokers were being shown the pictures and photographs of other people smoking. This part of the brain is called the dorsal striatum and is responsible for routine learning habits such as brushing teeth or riding a bike. It can only mean that smoking after a while becomes an automatic habit, something that a person starts doing without conscious control and that is why is unable to drop easily. What the scientists found was that only 5 percent of those were trying to quit without any help, were successful in their attempts.

Many people who try to quit say that certain memories of a cigarette with a cup of coffee, for example, with a glass of beer or just of a place where they enjoy to have their cigarette is often the thing that makes them return to their addiction and start smoking again. So here is the evidence that the problem with quitting smoking is not necessarily physical as many people believe, but mostly psychological. And dealing with the psychological side in ones decision to quit smoking is way harder than the physical discomfort people experience after being deprived of nicotine. "So, if we're really going to help people quit, this emphasizes the need to do more than tell people to resist temptation. We also have to help them break that habitual response," said Joseph McClernon. He also added that the scientists are looking for a new treatment options which would include the use of a nicotine patch prior to quitting smoking.

Co-author of this study Jed Rose, director of the Duke Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research, showed in the previous research he led that wearing a nicotine patch and smoking a cigarette without nicotine successfully breaks the customized behavior. "The smoking behavior is not reinforced, because the act of smoking is not leading them to get the nicotine," Rose said in the news release. "Doing this before people actually quit helps them break the habit so they start smoking less. We're seeing people quit longer this way,' he explained.

Governments of many countries around the world banned tobacco consumption in all government or private buildings and public places like cafes, restaurants, schools, stadiums, airports, hotels, hospitals, pubs or discotheques, and even bus stands. This taboo was supposed to at least decrease smoking in public places which poses a threat to the health of all people around. Many companies and offices have moved their 'smoking areas' to the streets and restricted smoking to lunch hour, that too outside the building. But smokers need much more than just a ban to help them quit. Just forbidding people from smoking during their work hours is not enough. Providing access to care, including support groups, smoking cessation medications and education, is how the government must help people to save their health and, in some cases even their lives. Since it is known that the addiction is deadly and insidious, smokers should be provided with alternatives and assistance to kick their habit.

Addiction to smoking is expensive and not just to the smokers who spend a lot of money buying cigarettes and other tobacco products. According to CDC (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) tobacco use costs the U.S. economy 193 billion dollars every year, after taking into consideration how much employers spend annually for every smoking employee. With national economy in crisis, and budgets stretched beyond their limits, it is absolutely important and necessary that health-care reform includes preventive care coverage and programs that, eventually will save money. Smoking must be treated with the same earnestness as alcoholism was treated once when it was recognized as a genuine disease by the American Medical Association. When health-care insurance started to cover the treatments of alcoholics they began a recovery process at a very high speed and soon after created better lives for themselves and their families. A huge effort from all government sectors is needed to prevent suffering of people, their pain and what is the most important - to save their lives.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about quitting smoking.




Tags: Addictions

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