Brain damage provides clue to tobacco addiction

In collaboration with the Press Association

Doctors working with smokers with a particular form of brain damage say that they appear to be able to stop smoking without withdrawal symptoms or cravings.

Out of 19 smokers with damage to an area of the brain known as the insula due to injury, 12 immediately quit after their accident, and said that they did not feel any urge for tobacco.

"My body forgot the urge to smoke," said one man, who before his accident smoked 40 unfiltered cigarettes a day and did not intend to give up.

The insula is buried deep within the cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain associated with its more complex functions, and has previously been associated with addiction.

"This really helps us understand how the brain works in addictive disorders," said Dr Edythe London of the University of California.

"Gut feelings that are associated with cravings are probably only experienced after the information is processed in the insula."

Researchers said that the finding could have important implications for treating addiction as the insula may be responsible for the feeling that nicotine is a physical need.

The study was conducted by the University of California in Los Angeles and is published in the journal Science.