Cigarette Addiction Supported By Brain Network Interaction

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Addiction is one of the most widespread health problems throughout the world. Whether it be narcotic addiction, alcoholism, or tobacco addiction, a huge proportion of people are struggling with one of the few health problems which combines physical damage to the body with mental issues which make stopping much harder than it sounds.

CigaretteMost substances utilize unique means of creating and fostering addiction, and researchers are gradually beginning to understand exactly how addiction functions within individuals. A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania and the National Institute on Drug Abuse focused their research on understanding addictions to cigarettes and smoking, and their findings suggest large-scale brain networks may cooperate to make quitting smoking harder and continuing the addiction.

The study found that smokers abstaining from nicotine for 24 hours had notable difficulty switching between the salience, executive control, and the default mode networks of the brain, which researchers believe increases the urge to smoke.

The study was led by Caryn Lerman, PhD, of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Nicotine Addiction in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. Lerman and her team constructed a special form of functional MRI study in which they compared the resting-state brain connections in 37 participants after a full 24 hours of not smoking and after smoking satiety.

Using a resource allocation index (RAI) which contained data on the combined strength of interactions between the different brain mode networks, the team examined the connection between RAI changes and changes in visual working memory.

The study showed that RAI decreased significantly when study participants abstained from smoking, compared with when smoking at their normal rate. Upon further inspection, the team realized the change in right hemisphere RAI was negatively correlated with changes in smoking urges. So, the more RAI decreased, the more the urge to smoke increased during abstinence.

The findings were also reflected in tests of memory-based task performance. The researchers noted that decreasing right hemisphere RAI was linked to participants giving correct answers more slowly. This supports the belief that the inability to disengage from the brain’s default mode may be critical in establishing nicotine dependence and addiction.

“We believe that smokers who just quit have a more difficult time shifting gears from inward thoughts about how they feel to an outward focus on the tasks at hand. It’s very important for people who are trying to quit to be able to maintain activity within the control network — to be able to shift from thinking about yourself and your inner state to focus on your more immediate goals and plan,” Lerman said in a press release.

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