Skip to content

    Smoking Cessation Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Why Some Smokers Have a Harder Time Quitting

    Study Shows Variation in Brain May Give Some Smokers More Pleasure From Nicotine
    By
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

    May 16, 2011 -- Quitting smoking is never easy, but some smokers have an even harder time kicking the habit, and now new research suggests that they may derive more pleasure form nicotine.

    The new study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may also help foster the development of more effective quitting strategies for certain smokers.

    Researchers used PET scans to capture images of the number of “mu-opioid receptors” in the brains of smokers. Smokers with greater numbers of these receptors seem to derive more pleasure from nicotine, and as a result may have a harder time quitting.

    “The brain’s opioid system plays a role in smoking rewards, and quitting smoking and some of the variability in our ability to quit among smokers is attributable to genetic factors,” says study researcher Caryn Lerman, PhD, director of Tobacco Use Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

    “The ability to quit smoking is influenced by a number of psychological, social, and environmental factors, but also genetic factors,” she says. “For some people, genetic variations may make it more difficult to quit than for someone else who smokes the same amount for same amount of time,” Lerman says.

    The study findings are more applicable to quitting smoking than becoming addicted in the first place, she says.

    New Quitting Strategies/Tools Needed

    There may be a role for personalized medicine when it comes to smoking cessation, Lerman says. Personalized medicine takes the trial and error out of matching treatments by making decisions based on genetic profiles.

    “Based on a person's genetic background, we can select the optimal treatment,” she says. “It is a two-pronged approach of developing new medications and being able to make the best choice for a particular person based on existing options."

    Importantly, even diehard smokers should not take these findings to mean they can’t quit, she says.

    “Don’t become fatalistic,” she says. “You may need particular approaches tailored to you,” she says. Going forward, “we hope to study this pathway in more detail to understand whether examining genetic background and the numbers of brain receptors can help us choose the right treatments for the right individual.”

    Today on WebMD

    hands breaking a cigarette
    Is quitting cold turkey an effective method?
    ashtray
    14 tips to get you through the first hard days.
     
    smoking man
    Surprising impacts of tobacco on the body.
    cigarette smoke
    What happens when you kick the habit?
     

    Filtered cigarettes
    ARTICLE
    an array of e cigarettes
    ARTICLE
     
    human heart
    ARTICLE
    Woman experiencing withdrawal symptoms
    ARTICLE
     

    man smoking cigarette
    ARTICLE
    no smoking sign
    VIDEO
     
    Woman ashing cigarette in ashtray
    ARTICLE
    chain watch
    ARTICLE