New Study on Cigarettes Shows Men’s and Women’s Brains are Affected Differently by Smoking
While cigarette smoking is incredibly habit-forming and can lead to addiction (as well as cancer, lung problems, heart disease, and even a loss of the sense of smell and taste), the act of smoking seems to affect different individuals in different ways. Specifically, previous studies have focused on the way men and women are reinforced differently by the use of cigarettes while one still becomes no less addicted than the other.
According to the NIDA News, a new study has recently focused on the way cigarette smoke affects the brains of both men and women differently. Researchers from Yale were able to find that brain activation for male cigarette smokers rests on the nicotine while the activation in female smokers relies more on the actual habit of smoking.
This research is a true breakthrough in the understanding of why individuals continue to smoke and what makes one person’s reasons different from another’s. However, the way that the process works also has many similarities for different individuals. The NIDA Teen states, “Like cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, nicotine increases levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.” Dopamine is usually released when an individual experiences something pleasurable, which is why smoking feels good. Then, when that good feeling wears off, the individual wants to smoke more in order to feel it again.
The NIDA News states, “The study showed that dopamine release in nicotine-dependent men during smoking occurred in the part of the brain (ventral striatum) associated with drug reinforcement. The dopamine response in women was found within a part of the brain (dorsal striatum) associated with habit formation.” This is new information which not only allows us to understand why people smoke but also how they may be treated for their smoking addictions.
In the case of men, the term “drug reinforcement” means that they are more affected by and reinforced by the nicotine in cigarettes, which is the addictive ingredient. Smoking cigarettes become more necessary to the man as a result because he is addicted to nicotine. For women, the continued action of smoking may make them rely more on that action itself, the habit, as opposed to the addictive substance.
Does This Mean Women Aren’t Addicted to Nicotine?
Absolutely not. Women who experience the response associated with habit formation are “no less dependent on nicotine” than men are. The difference lies in where the dopamine itself occurs, or causes a reaction. That means that men and women will smoke for different reasons, even though they are both dependent on the nicotine.
Treatment & Quitting
For this reason, certain addiction treatments may work on men but not on women and vice-versa. It may be more likely that a nicotine patch would be more effective for many men while women may be better treated with therapy in order to break their habits. However, this does not mean that every many or woman will be affected this way; only that it is possible and important to note.
Understanding this difference in how cigarette smoking differently affects the brains of men and women can open the door for better treatment in the future and, with any luck, longer lasting recoveries from nicotine addiction.