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Smoking Cessation Health Center

Why Some Smokers Have a Harder Time Quitting

Study Shows Variation in Brain May Give Some Smokers More Pleasure From Nicotine
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Raymond S. Niaura, PhD, an associate director for science at the Schroeder Institute of the American Legacy Foundation, an antismoking group based in Washington, D.C., says that “there are genetic influences involved in becoming addicted to nicotine and tobacco and on how hard it is to quit smoking.”

The new findings provide “a peek into the genetic and underlying brain processes responsible for nicotine addiction,” he says.

People with this particular genetic variation may benefit from extended treatment, he says. “They may have a certain kind of sensitivity to nicotine, which could explain why they became addicted in the first place and why they may need to use nicotine replacement for a longer time than others.”

Daniel Seidman, PhD, assistant clinical professor of medical psychology and the director of Smoking Cessation Services at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, agrees.“There are a lot of smokers and everybody gets lumped together, but there are a lot of patterns like with other types of addiction.”

This paper “points to a biological or genetic substrate which predisposes some people to have a hard time,” he says. Quitting smoking can be emotionally charged, he says. Symptoms typically include irritability, anger, and sad mood. “Some people are able to rally more and some may not bounce back as well because they have a harder time finding alternative sources of pleasure,” he says. 

Agreeing with Niaura, Seidman says that some smokers seem to need nicotine replacement for longer periods of time. “When they come off nicotine patches or gum, it doesn’t feel right and it may be related to this subtype,” he says. “This is not a problem because nicotine replacement doesn’t cause cancer or go into your lungs.”

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