London: Want to quit smoking? Do it gradually.
Smokers may find it easier to kick the butt if they stop smoking gradually than if they quit abruptly, a new study suggests.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen studied the immediate reaction in the brain after quitting smoking.
Brain scans showed that the brain's oxygen uptake and blood flow decreases by up to 17 per cent immediately after people stop smoking.
"Regular smokers experience an almost dementia-like condition in the early hours after quitting, as suggested by brain scans. This can be quite an unpleasant experience, and is probably one of the reasons why it can be very difficult to quit smoking once and for all," said Professor Albert Gjedde, neuroscience researcher at the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology.
"Smokers drift back into abuse, perhaps not to obtain a pleasant effect - that ship has sailed - but simply because the withdrawal symptoms are unbearable," Gjedde said.
The researchers compare the nicotine in tobacco smoke with other pharmacologically active substances.
"After a period of time, many users of medicine will no longer experience an effect from treatment - for example with antidepressants. However, the consequences of discontinuing treatment could still be overwhelming if the withdrawal symptoms are very unpleasant," said Gjedde.
Habitual smokers seemingly need to continue smoking just to keep their brain functioning normally.
With time, they may become less dependent on smoking, but the researchers still do not know how long it takes before the brain of a former smoker has regained its normal energy consumption and blood flow.
"We assume that it takes weeks or months, but we do not know for sure. The new findings suggest that it may be a good idea to stop smoking gradually - simply to avoid the worst withdrawal symptoms that make it so difficult to stick to the otherwise very sensible decision to stop smoking," said Gjedde.
The research is published in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism.