January 5, 2011

Smoke Signals

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Anti-smoking drugs work by inhibiting brain's "reward" center

(dailyRx News) Recent studies of smoking cessation medications find that certain drugs are successful at inhibiting brain pathways that enhance feelings of reward and emotion, which smoking activates.

Approximately 21 percent of Americans smoke and of that percentage, almost 81 percent smoke every day. Smoking kills about half a million people every year, due to lung cancer and other complications. 10 percent of those deaths are from secondhand smoke. Cigarette smoking takes a heavy toll on those who actively engage and those around them, so the push to help individuals quit is extremely important.

Two recent reports offer new insight into how anti-smoking medications help curb cravings by affecting how the brain reacts to smoking and nicotine. Brain imaging scans have pinpointed specific regions activated by nicotine in smokers: those responsible for attention, emotion, reward and motivation.

The drug Bupropion is used to help smokers quit who are also dealing with depression. The medication works by reducing cravings and targeting the parts of the brain that respond to certain environmental cues that trigger people to smoke. These cues can be as simple as seeing someone on television smoke.

Another drug, varenicline, focuses on reducing withdrawals and by inhibiting the part of the brain that gives the feeling of reward associated with smoking.

Each medication was studied and evaluated by surveying individuals and using brain scans and both were found to have a significant effect on the brain. The researchers believe that a drug such as varenicline may be more effective in helping those with mental illness quit, due to its effectiveness in reducing both withdrawal and cravings.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
January 5, 2011

Last Updated:
January 5, 2011