It has long been established that quitting smoking is difficult. In fact, for a lot of people, it's near impossible. A study sheds light on the subject, showing that it's not just a matter of weak will.
Published in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism, the study details brain activity in smokers and the moment one decides to stop. The nicotine in a cigarette is what's responsible for making smoking addictive but it has also been shown that tissues in the brain quickly adapt, making the effect go away. However, brain scans of individuals who have just stopped smoking show that blood flow and oxygen uptake in the brain is reduced by up to 17 percent.
Professor Albert Gjedde with the University of Copenhagen's Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology, one of the study's co-authors, explained that regular smokers start experiencing a condition similar to dementia in the few hours directly after they stopped smoking. The experience is nowhere near pleasant and thus can be considered one of the major reasons why quitting smoking is a gargantuan task.
"Smokers drift back into abuse, perhaps not to obtain a pleasant effect but simply because the withdrawal symptoms are unbearable," added Gjedde.
Researchers compared nicotine found in tobacco smoke against other pharmacological substances. While drug users have to keep taking their substances of choice to prevent withdrawal symptoms, habitual users appear to need to keep on smoking because it is a means of keeping their brains functioning normally. And even when they have successfully stopped smoking, it is not clear how much time is really needed before their brains start consuming energy normally again and blood flow stabilizes.
Gjedde and colleagues assume it can take weeks or months but an exact timeline is not clear. However, what their research does point to is that it's best for smokers to try and kick the habit gradually, if only just to avoid the horrible withdrawal symptoms that make it very difficult to stick to a pledge to stop smoking.
One person dies every six seconds due to a tobacco-related disease so despite the difficulties of quitting it is still heavily recommended. In the United States alone, more than 20 percent of all deaths are associated with tobacco use. Sadly, over 600,000 non-smokers around the globe also die every year from second-hand smoke, a third of which are children.