Scientists may have just unlocked the brain’s door that holds the secret of drug and tobacco addiction. According to recent studies, the insular cortex situated in the central region, could be responsible with creating the cognitive and emotional processes linked to persistent smoking or drug use.
It turns out that people who suffered damage to the insular cortex due to a stroke have better chances of quitting smoking for three continuous months than those with their insular cortex intact. Breaking this part of the brain in a stroke seems to have the strangest effects on people’s behavior.
The study divided the 156 volunteers in two groups: those whose insular cortex had been damaged by the stroke, and those who had suffered a stroke somewhere else in their brain. For those who were smokers before, it had become twice as easy to quit their habit with significantly reduced signs of craving and withdrawal.
That’s what made Amir Abdolahi, lead author of the study, to consider the importance of the insular cortex in addiction. Even though smoking rates have been dropping in the United States, the nasty habit is still taking a great toll. Nearly one in 5 people die due to one of the many smoking-related diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Once smoking becomes a habit, the nicotine makes it difficult for people to quit the addiction. Reports of the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention (CDC) show that cigarette smoking is to blame for more than 480,000 deaths annually. Two medical journals have published the study’s findings, Addiction and Addictive Behaviors.
People dealing with tobacco dependence are usually prescribed various drugs, such as bupropion and varenicline, which get in the way of the brain’s “reward” pathways. Dopamine – the neurotransmitter that is released in response to nicotine, is blocked from binding, thus making the experience less enjoyable.
Even though the treatments’ side effects are usually easy to manage, they fail in other aspects. Reports show that relapse rates are relatively high, as 70 percent of smokers who quit aided by treatments turn to the habit sooner or later. Similar rates of success are also presented by lozenges and nicotine patches.
Researchers measured the insular cortex’s activity in regard to two indicators of smoking cessation probability: the level of cravings throughout hospitalization from their stroke, and the rate of resuming smoking after their stroke.
Although further research is needed in order to establish what exactly goes on in the insular cortex, it is clear that addiction is influenced by that activity, one way or another.
Image Source: Red Orbit