Hypertension Drug Could Help Smokers Beat Nicotine Addiction

By McCarton Ackerman 12/18/14

Researchers have found a possibly big breakthrough in beating nicotine addiction.

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A new study has found that a drug geared towards treating hypertension could actually be a breakthrough in helping beat nicotine addiction.

The findings published in the latest issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology report that guanfacine, which reduces stress and improves cognition while also treating hypertension, works as a smoking cessation aid by reducing the stress associated with smoking relapses. Dividing participants into guanfacine-treated smokers and those given a placebo, the scientists found that those given guanfacine decreased their smoking by up to 70% during their treatment period.

Their work suggests that guanfacine helps smokers kick the habit by promoting more efficient processing in specific regions of the brain, including those involved with executive functioning and attentional processing. The drug is already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and has already been approved to treat ADHD in children and adults.

“We know that individuals with addiction demonstrate decrements in prefrontal functioning, and medications that strengthen these cognitive functions can reduce impulsive responding—like relapsing back to smoking,” said Marc N. Potenza, professor of psychiatry, neurobiology at the Yale Child Study Center. "We are now studying whether the medication might be particularly effective for women smokers given that women are more likely to smoke to manage negative mood and stress than men, who are more likely to smoke to satisfy their nicotine craving.”

Although cigarettes and overall tobacco use has declined in the U.S. in recent years, it still remains a major health concern. Approximately 20% of Americans currently smoke, down from 40% half a century ago, that still means there are 40 million smokers left. Smoking rates remain higher among the poor and uneducated, as well as the LGBT community. Smoking rates among the gay and transgender population are 27.7%, compared to 13.7% for heterosexuals.

The county with the highest smoking rate is Kotzebue, Ala., where 41.5% of men and 40.8% admit to lighting up on a regular basis.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.