Scientists at Philips Research North America believe they have found the key to treating addictions, after discovering that smokers who suffered a stroke in the region of the brain known as the insular cortex, were more likely to stop smoking than people who suffered stroke in other brain regions.
The research which was published in two journals, Addiction, and Addictive Behaviors, suggests that the insular cortex may be key to whether or not someone develops an addiction. Lead author, Amir Abdolahi explained that smokers who had suffered a stroke in this area of the brain, were twice as likely to quit smoking, plus they experienced much less severe cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Previous studies have suggested that this particular region of the brain plays a part in the cognitive processes which can lead to drug abuse.
To further their understanding of the role of the insular cortex, two studies were carried out which involved 156 patients in total. All of the participants were smokers. The scientists used MRI and CT scans to determine the location of their strokes. The participants were divided into groups according to the location of their stroke; 38 patients were known to have suffered a stroke in the insular cortex, while 118 patients were identified as having a stroke in another region of the brain.
Measurements were taken of the severity of their cravings while they were in hospital recovering from their stroke, and whether they resumed smoking after recovery. The team found that those patients with insular cortex strokes experienced fewer and less severe withdrawal symptoms than those who experienced stroke in another brain region. Furthermore, after 3 months, 70% of the patients with insular cortex strokes reported having given up smoking, compared to just 37% of patients from the other group.
Despite the fact that the research was based on a relatively small number of participants, the team believe that their findings indicate that this region of the brain does have the potential to play a key role in treating addictions to all kinds of substances, including tobacco. However they do admit that further research is necessary in order to gain further understanding of the specific role played by the insular cortex.
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