Aug. 2, 2010 — Regulating cravings to smoke a cigarette or eat junk food may involve the same mechanisms in the brain used to regulate emotions, a finding which could help develop coping strategies for people struggling with addiction.
This finding is based on brain scans collected from cigarette smokers.The researchers used cigarette smokers in their study because smoking is the most common form of substance use disorder in the United States and is a behavior that is also linked to cravings. The results of their research are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Cravings and Emotions
Researchers at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., wanted to evaluate what was going on in the brains of smokers when they were asked to perform a task designed to test how cravings are regulated, meaning whether patients refrained from what they knew wasn’t good for them or if they succumbed to the craving.
At the start of the study, participants reported cravings for high-fat food and cigarettes. They were then given a task, which involved looking at pictures of smoking or eating and the words “Now” or “Later.” In the “Now” group, the participants were asked to think about the immediate consequences of consuming the particular substance. Participants in the “Later” group were asked to consider the long-term consequences of repeatedly consuming the substance. This allowed researchers to gauge participants’ amount of cravings for nicotine or food and the change in the level of craving when considering the potential longer-term effects of eating high-fat foods or smoking.