Aug 05

Mark Twain said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.” Well, we all know: quitting smoking reduces the risk of terrible illnesses like cancer and cardiovascular disease. It increases fertility levels, breathing and overall fitness. Another benefit of quitting is enjoying the taste of food again. You will look and smell better and on top of it all, save a lot of money.  Why then is it so hard for many to stop the habit – or addiction – of smoking?

The reasons for smoking addiction can be cut down to 2 important factors: nicotine and habits.

Nicotine, for one, is a highly addictive substance that occurs naturally in tobacco, and hooks your brain by stimulating it with a shot of dopamine, the hormone that tells us that food and sex are pleasurable. It also increases activity in areas of the brain that are believed to be involved in cognitive functions, so a cigarette can make you feel sharper and more focused. As if that weren’t enough, nicotine also increases the endorphin levels, the proteins that give you feelings of euphoria. Needless to say that having a ‘tool’ that can make you feel better in these ways, is something you don’t give it up easily. Quitting may leave you feeling deprived, and you may exhibit serious withdrawal symptoms if you have to go without nicotine.

Another important factor for this specific kind of addiction is habits – the patterns that are involved in smoking. Smoking behavior usually becomes closely linked with daily activities and ‘cues’ such as: after a meal, when socializing with friends, to ‘take a break’, when under stress (to relax), when relaxing (to relax further), etc. These aspects of smoking can be just as challenging to overcome as the physical dependence.

Consequently, most people who want to quit smoking once and for all, require an approach that deals with both vulnerabilities: the addiction itself and the behavioral aspects of it. The current ‘traps’ have to be identified and after that, new patterns and routines to be developed that make it easier to ‘skip’ the impulse to look for a cigarette. Hypnotherapy can support in this aspect by allowing our mind to adapt to the new behavior, but it can’t do wonders without the patient’s strong dedication  to getting rid of their smoking addiction. The first few weeks without cigarettes are usually the hardest. After 8-12 weeks, most individuals who make it that far start to feel more comfortable without smoking. Still, only 3 in 10 people can successfully stop smoking once and for all.

(This short article is part of a weekly series dealing with psychological expat problems and general mental health issues and was published in various newspapers and magazines in Thailand, 2011)

Nov 29

Posttraumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) was very much one of the centers of attention during the last years of psychological research. Posttraumatic stress disorders may develop when  people are exposed to life-threatening situations – such as natural disasters, assassinations, sexual abuse or war events. It is estimated that up to 50% of all U.S. soldiers returning from war zones are affected by forms of post-traumatic stress disorder. But PTSD is difficult to treat and usually requires a lengthy therapy, even though various pharmacological approaches using the stress hormone cortisol, beta-blockers include Propranolo [1] and psychotherapy (the special trauma therapy methods based on hypnotherapy like EMDR, or combined approaches such as the one by Luise Reddemann) brought significant progress.

New hope now comes from a totally unexpected direction: in a study done together with graduate student E. Ganon-Elazar and published in the Journal of Neuroscience [2] it was shown that the activation of cannabinoid receptors in the basolateral nuclear complex of the amygdala (BLA) compensates the  effect of stress during conditioning. Many years ago, the pharmacist at the Jerusalem University, Rafael Meshulam, already published similar positive effects when he administered traumatized mice, now his results could be confirmed in trials with rats. Following a decision of the Supreme Court of Croatia in an appeal against a man who had fought in the war in Yugoslavia and was since then suffering from PTSD, war veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder may now even now grow marijuana for self-treatment. [3]

(Sources: [1] Andrea Naica-Loebell: “Die Pille für das Vergessen” in: telepolis Online-Magazin, 08/2005; [2] Ganon-Elazar, E. & Akirav, I. (2009), Cannabinoid receptor activation in the basolateral amygdala blocks the effects of stress on the conditioning and extinction of inhibitory avoidance. Journal of Neuroscience, 29(36):11078-11088; [3] Der Standard 04.06.2009; Image credit: Cannabisculture.com)

22.03.20