The latest insight on addiction is that a smoker’s intention to quit smoking is not always needed to reduce cigarette craving. A will to stop, however, is often seen as a requirement for enrolling into smoking cessation treatment programs.
A new study that reviewed cigarette addiction and other drug abuse found that exercises aimed at increasing self-control, such as mindfulness meditation, can decrease the unconscious influences that motivate a person to smoke.
Recent brain scanning studies have shown that smokers have less activity in areas associated with self-control. In one study, an integrative body-mind training program that included relaxation training techniques was examined to see how improving self-control could help smokers with their cravings.
The researchers recruited 60 undergraduate students (27 cigarette smokers and 33 non-smokers) to the training program. Half of them received mindfulness meditation training (becoming self-aware of one's experience) and half received a relaxation technique. Before and at the end of the program, their brains were scanned and self-report questionnaires were completed. Each student also had their smoking objectively measured with carbon monoxide testing.
Even though many of the students said they had smoked the same number of cigarettes before and after the training, for those who had received mindfulness meditation, an objective measure of carbon dioxide percentage in their lungs showed a 60percent reduction in smoking in the two weeks after the study.
Results showed that the students had changed their smoking behavior but were not aware of it. The researchers say that if we improve the self-control network in the brain and moderate stress-reactivity, then it is possible to reduce smoking.
Mindfulness meditation, as well as other strategies that are aimed at strengthening self-control, are likely to be useful for the management of addiction, but not necessarily for everybody. However, understanding how our brain works when we do interventions that strengthen self-control can also have multiple implications that relate to behaviors that are necessary for health and wellbeing.