Quitting smoking may seem impossible for someone who has no desire to do so, but new research published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences shows that using behavioral training tactics, like mindfulness meditation, may work to effectively enhance the self-control needed to quit smoking— even for individuals who don’t necessarily want to stop.
Researchers analyzed previous studies on addiction. For instance, earlier research has shown that smokers tend to have less brain activity in the areas that are associated with self-control. Therefore, increasing self-control can decrease some of the influences that subconsciously motivate people to smoke.
One technique shown to help manage self-control is mindfulness meditation, which involves learning to become self-aware of your experiences at every moment. In one of the studies cited in this review, researchers recruited 27 smokers and 33 non-smokers to participate in what the participants thought was a program to learn about relaxation and meditation techniques for reducing stress and improving cognitive function.
Half of the participants were trained on mindfulness meditation, while the other half learned a different relaxation technique. All of the students answered self-report questionnaires and had brain scans done both at the start and end of the study. Their smoking activity was also measured by testing for carbon monoxide.
According to the results, smokers who went through the mindfulness meditation training for two weeks appeared to reduce smoking by 60%, based on the percentage of carbon monoxide in their lungs. This was true even for smokers who reported smoking the same amount before and at the end of the study, which suggests that for many people, mindfulness mediation has a positive effect on quitting smoking (or at least cutting back) even if they’re not consciously aware of it.
In addition to influencing self-control, other studies in this review have shown that incorporating integrative body-mind training (such as mindfulness meditation) can reduce stress hormone levels, boost immune reactivity, and trigger other changes in the brain that strengthen connectivity between the areas associated with self-control.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Tang, Y., et al., “Circuitry of self-control and its role in reducing addiction,” Trends in Cognitive Science 2015; 19(8): 439-444.
MacGill, M., “Mindfulness meditation may help smokers quit – even those with no willpower,” Medical News Today web site, July 31, 2015; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/297536.php.