Quitting smoking relies on stronger brain networks

The brains of smokers who successfully quit have more connectivity in an area called the insula (in blue) than those of smokers who relapse (in yellow).

Story highlights

  • The strength of connections between brain regions predict who will successfully quit smoking
  • The same regions of the brain involved in reward and behavior control could affect smoking and alcoholism
  • Smoking cessation therapies that increase brain connectivity should be developed and tested

(CNN)Anyone who has tried to quit smoking knows the mind games required to resist cravings and tolerate withdrawal headaches and lethargy. A new study suggests that some hopeful quitters are just more mentally equipped to handle the challenge than others.

Researchers looked at the brain activity of a group of 85 heavy smokers (at least 10 cigarettes a day) using a method called fMRI, or functional magnetic resonance imaging. They found that people who had stronger connections between two regions of the brain -- one involved in reward, the other in controlling impulsive behavior -- were more likely to be successful at giving up smoking, at least for 10 weeks.
"This is the largest study to date where we've attempted to identify neural markers, or predictors, of later success in quitting smoking," said Joseph McClernon, a