Tobacco Addiction and the Brain

Blog Post created by dr_hurt on Apr 13, 2012

Recently a body of scientific literature has emerged describing what scientists call “cue reactivity.”  Using a brain imaging technique called functional MRI, specific areas of the brain have been identified that reacts to smoking-related cues in the environment.  These cues are the things that you run into every day that make you think of lighting up because they actually “trip a switch” in your brain.

These cues can be very personal.  What are they for you?  Some common ones are: seeing a cigarette or someone smoking, seeing an ashtray, hearing the flick of a lighter, smelling smoke, drinking coffee, seeing tobacco advertising, having an alcoholic drink, or just being in a room or a place where you normally smoke.  Scientists now understand the basis to these cues a smoker experiences when trying to stop smoking.  It really can make it harder.

When you are exposed to smoking-related cues, these specific areas of your brain go into overdrive and can overwhelm your intentions not to smoke.  This research translates into what might be some good advice that can make it a little easier to quit smoking:

  • Change your routines.

Trying to do everything just the same as you always do can really make it hard to stop.  Take a look at your morning routine, your drive to work or your breaks during the day.  Is there a way you might switch things up?

  • Change your environment.

Try drinking your coffee in a different room or drink tea, avoid your favorite place to smoke, get rid of lighters and ashtrays.  Try to get rid of the things that your brain sees as cues to smoke.

Think about it as you go throughout your day, and try to search out those things that “trip your switch.”  By simply changing a few things around, you might be able to avoid some of them and make this project just a little easier.