Smoking is a notoriously hard habit to kick. Multiple studies over the years have confirmed that -- both physically and psychologically -- nicotine is just as addictive as heroin, cocaine or amphetamines.
But new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that one particular method of quitting is statistically and significantly more effective than others. Trace Dominguez has the scoop in today's DNews dispatch.
First, a quick primer on the science behind nicotine addiction: Naturally found in tobacco, nicotine is a drug that travels quickly to the brain when inhaled. Once it's all up in your head, quite literally, the drug triggers chemical reactions that release dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters.
Even more diabolically, the chemical processes initiated by nicotine create still more nicotine receptors in the brain. When those receptors are denied their fix, they trigger the phenomenon known as withdrawal, causing intense feelings of depression and tension. Withdrawal symptoms can be dispelled, almost instantly, with more nicotine.
RELATED: E-Cig Benefits Outweigh Risks: Study
Evil, isn't it? Fortunately, it's illegal to profit off of this destructive neurological spiral and -- wait, what? Never mind. Back to the science: Among the various methods deployed to address the problem is the protocol of nicotine replacement therapy. This is the concept behind patches, chewing gum, lozenges, inhalers and even nasal spray. The idea is to deliver the nicotine in a manner less dangerous for the lungs, then gradually reduce the amount of nicotine delivered over time.
But the efficacy of this approach is dubious. One study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health looked at 787 adults trying to quit smoking using various nicotine replacement strategies. Participants were surveyed three different times over the course of six years. During each one of those check-ins around a third of the participants had relapsed. This led researchers to conclude that "using nicotine replacement therapy is no more effective in helping people stop smoking cigarettes in the long-term than trying to quit on one's own."
This is where the latest research comes in. The study tracked 697 adult smokers divided into two groups: those who quit cold turkey and those who gradually reduced their smoking over the course of two weeks. Researchers recorded their results both four weeks then six months later.
Nearly half of the cold turkey group successfully quit smoking after a month, compared to 39% of those who gave it up gradually. At the half-year mark, the rates of success dropped down to 22% and 15% respectively -- but this still suggests that the cold turkey technique is more effective than gradual reduction.
It's dispiriting news, perhaps, for those planning to quit. But look at it this way -- it's cheaper than the alternatives.
-- Glenn McDonald
Live Science: Anatomy Of Addiction: Why It's So Hard To Quit Smoking
Harvard University: Nicotine Replacement Therapies May Not Be Effective In Helping People Quit Smoking
Reuters: Can Lasers Help You Stop Smoking? Check The Data