Quitting smoking is challenging for many. Cigarettes are highly addictive and smoking becomes an engrained habit all too quickly.

Learning and memory play an important role in addiction, with behavioural cues being associated with reward pathways in the brain when smokers have a cigarette. These cues then elicit cravings.

Researchers identified the potential to tackle smoking cessation by reducing cue-induced cravings and breaking these associations in a smoker’s mind.

To date there has been minimal research into the efficacy of such training techniques to reduce cravings and cigarettes smoked.

Retrieval-extinction (R-E) training targets smoking-related memories with the aim of diminishing the cravings that arise from contact with certain cues. The desired result is updating the original memory with new information that breaks the cue-reward memory and subsequent behaviour.

Researchers tested this intervention in a group of cigarette smokers to see if there was any effect on cravings and smoking reduction or abstinence.

They found that R-E training significantly reduced cravings and the number cigarettes smoked per day. The training consisted of a short smoking cue video followed by training sessions. The results persisted at one month follow up.

Implications

The mind can play a powerful role in perpetuating damaging behaviours. It’s important to be aware of actions becoming habitual and try where possible to stop unhealthy behaviours before they become a part of our daily routine.

This study also adds hope that if something does become habit, there’s a chance we can break the original cue with training. Quitting smoking improves every aspect of your health and it’s never too late to quit.

Last Reviewed: 06/01/2020

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

Germeroth, L et al. (2017). Effect of a Brief Memory Updating Intervention on Smoking Behaviour: A Randomised Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry 74(3): 214 – 223. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.3148.