A University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) research scientist recently received a $1.7 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to study the different ways smokers respond to emotional distress.
Dr. Merideth Addicott of UAMS’ Center for Addiction Research will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) and laboratory tests to study the tolerance levels of smokers in an effort to gain a better understanding of why some smokers succeed in quitting while others relapse.
Addicott plans to expose the study’s participants to a variety of physically stressful situations, such as measuring how long they can hold their breath or how long they can stand exposure to cold water, in addition to emotional stressors like mathematic testing. The participants will also be asked to work on a math test while undergoing an MRI scan and given the opportunity to decide when they want to quit answering the questions.
The goal of the study is to look into the basic brain mechanisms that people use to tolerate stress while trying quit smoking, Addicott said.
“We’re looking at stress and its relationship to smoking because we know that some people smoke to address stress,” Addicott, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry said. “Stress can come from so many things – traffic, family, work – and stress can really trip people up when they are trying to quit smoking. We’re looking for individual differences to predict who can quit for longer based on distress tolerance.”
Addicott will be using fMRI to study the insula, a relatively small region of the brain used to interpret physical sensations.
“The insula plays a role in conscious awareness of the body, whether something is a good sensation or a bad one,” she says. “We use those same mechanisms to determine if or when we want to go back to smoking, so hopefully this study will help us find ways to support people who smoke as a response to stress.”