Study helps identify the region of the brain central to treating addiction

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Researchers have discovered that an area of the brain called the insular cortex could hold the key to helping people quit smoking and other forms of addiction. Two studies have helped them learn that smokers who suffered a stroke in their insular cortex were more likely to give up on their cigarette addiction as compared to people affected in other areas of the brain.

“These findings indicate that the insular cortex may play a central role in addiction,” said lead author Amir Abdolahi, a clinical research scientist at Philips Research North America.

“When this part of the brain is damaged during stroke, smokers are about twice as likely to stop smoking and their craving and withdrawal symptoms are far less severe,” he added.

Cigarette smoking is the single largest cause pof preventable deaths in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly 480,000 lives are lost on this account year after year.

Quitting the nicotine habit however is not easy. Though the rates of smoking In US have fallen marginally over the last few years from 21 smokers per every 100 adults in 2005 to 18 per every 100 adults in 2013, it continues to account for 20 percent of the deaths in the US.

Insular cortex area brain

Earlier studies had suggested that the insular cortex region of the brain could play a vital role for those addicted to the deadly habit, following which researchers assessed 156 patients to find out whether those who had suffered damage to the aforementioned part of the brain due to a stroke were any different from those with damage to other areas of the brain.

Two studies took into account the likelihood of smokers quitting up on cigarettes, the severity of their cravings during their hospitalization and the chances of their getting back to old habits after recovering from stroke.

Researchers noticed that “while 37% of patients with strokes in other parts of the brain had quit smoking, 70% of the patients with strokes in the insular cortex had.”

Since the two researches were carried out on a very small number of patients, “more research is needed in order for us to more fully understand the underlying mechanism and specific role of the insular cortex, but is clear that something is going on in this part of the brain that is influencing addiction,” noted Abdolahi.

The findings were published in Addiction and Addictive Behaviours.