Brain damage due to stroke might point to source of addiction

Scientists are saying that a particular part of our brain is responsible for driving smoking addiction. They are saying so after discovering that stroke survivors experiencing damage in their insular cortex are getting rid of the habit more easily.

The scientists studied a total of 156 stroke patients with brain injury of various types. They found that the ones who had damage in their insular cortex not only gave up smoking more easily but also had fewer withdrawal symptoms compared to other stroke sufferers.

Now, experts are saying that targeting this particular area of the brain might help people quit smoking.

The majority of the medicines used nowadays for smoking cessation block the reward pathways of our brain in response to nicotine. Gums and patches, on the other hands, aim to reduce cravings by offering a controlled supply of nicotine to people trying to quit smoking and other forms of nicotine addiction.

However, according to Amir Abdolahi, a post-graduate researcher, and his colleagues, smokers’ insular cortex might serve as an important target for smoking cessation aids. They are saying that therapies that can target this part of the brain and destroy the role it plays in nicotine addiction, potentially with techniques like transcranial magnetic stimulation or deep brain stimulation and/or new drugs, must be explored.

Dr. Abdolahi believes that more research is required for them to fully comprehend the specific role played by the insular cortex and the underlying mechanism. However, he said that the findings of the preliminary study has made it clear that this part of the brain experiences something that has a big role to play in attracting people towards addiction.

As mentioned above, patients taking part in this study were all smokers and were admitted to hospital after suffering a stroke. After carrying out medical scans, it was found that 38 of those patients had damage in their insular cortex. The remaining patients experienced damage in other brain parts.

Doctors encouraged all 156 patients to quit smoking. Researchers followed all of them for a period of three months for seeing how many eventually succeed. Some patients dropped out. The study results, thus, only offered information about the remaining patients.

It was found that 70% of the patients experiencing damage in their insular cortex, successfully quit smoking. The percentage was as low as 37% for patients with damage in other brain parts.