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Smokers' Perceptions May Play Role in Addiction

They were more affected by nicotine when they thought it was present in a cigarette, study showed

TUESDAY, Sept. 13, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- The effect that nicotine has on the brain is influenced by a smoker's belief about nicotine content, a new study suggests.

In a series of experiments with 24 nicotine-addicted smokers, researchers found that to satisfy nicotine cravings, smokers not only had to smoke a cigarette with nicotine, but also had to believe the cigarette contained nicotine.

Study participants were twice given a nicotine-containing cigarette and twice given a cigarette without nicotine (a placebo). With each type of cigarette, they were once told the truth about the cigarette's nicotine content, and once told the opposite, the study authors explained.

For example, over four visits, the smokers:

  • Believed the cigarette contained nicotine, but received a placebo.
  • Believed the cigarette did not contain nicotine, but received a nicotine cigarette.
  • Believed the cigarette contained nicotine and received nicotine.
  • Believed the cigarette did not contain nicotine and received a placebo.

Smokers' cravings were not satisfied when they smoked a cigarette with nicotine but didn't believe it had nicotine, the study revealed.

"These results suggest that for drugs to have an effect on a person, he or she needs to believe that the drug is present," study author Xiaosi Gu, an assistant professor from the Center for BrainHealth, at the University of Texas at Dallas, said in a center release.

The results support previous research showing that beliefs can change how a drug affects cravings.

The study was published online recently in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more on tobacco and nicotine.

SOURCE: Center for BrainHealth, news release, Sept. 13, 2016

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