Is your smoking addiction all (or at least partially) in your head? A recent study in Frontiers Of Psychiatry found that nicotine-filled cigarettes failed to satisfy cravings in people who believed, erroneously, that the cigarettes lacked nicotine.
24 hard-core smokers participated in the study, in which they were given regular nicotine-filled cigarettes and placebos. Sometimes they were told accurately what was in their cigarette, and sometime they weren’t.
When the brains were scanned of the smokers who were told falsely that their cigarette was a placebo, the MRIs revealed a difference in the neural activity from those who smoked a nicotine-filled cigarette and were correctly told such. The “craving” part of the brain, the insula cortex, reacted differently when the subject was told there was no nicotine—regardless if the nicotine was there or not!
Per Popular Science:
Smokers normally get a rush of dopamine when the nicotine hits them, which is why it feels so good to finally have that cigarette you’ve been craving. It’s why nicotine is so addictive: you crave the rush, physically and psychologically. But if you don’t think you’re getting nicotine, the satisfaction never comes.
So there is something about merely believing that the addictive substance is there that plays a part in the addiction/withdrawal process. The important role belief plays in both addictions and medical conditions in general is one that needs to be studied more closely.