It’s Harder for Women to Quit Smoking than It Is for Men

Women are at an increased risk of relapse after a smoking cessation attempt. Research indicates that both the hormonal fluctuations of the menstrual cycle and the negative symptomatology experienced while quitting play a role during smoking cessation and can influence outcomes.

Although more men than women smoke, women take less time to become dependent after initial use, report shorter and less frequent abstinence periods, smoke for longer periods in their lives, and have more difficulties quitting the habit than men.

The number of smokers is gradually decreasing in the Western world, but international and local epidemiological reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Quebec (Canada) Statistics Institute suggest that cigarette smoking is on the rise internationally among young women and teen girls. Therefore, understanding the biological differences between males and females that can affect recovery efforts is very important.

Published in Psychiatry Journal, a new study by Adrianna Mendrek of the University of Montreal and its affiliated Institute Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Montréal, indicates how the menstrual cycle appears to have an impact on nicotine cravings. Mendrek claims:

“Our data reveal that incontrollable urges to smoke are stronger at the beginning of the follicular phase that begins after menstruation. Hormonal decreases of estrogen and progesterone possibly deepen the withdrawal syndrome and increase activity of neural circuits associated with craving. Taking the menstrual cycle into consideration could help women to stop smoking.”

Fifteen tobacco-smoking men and 19 women underwent a functional MRI scan during presentation of neutral and smoking-related images known to elicit craving. The women were tested twice during their menstrual cycle, once during the early follicular phase and once during the mid-luteal phase. The researchers led their study with two specific objectives in mind. The first was to check if there are gender differences in the neuronal circuits linked to craving. The second was to determine if the electro-cortical changes associated with nicotine withdrawal fluctuate in tandem with hormone variations.

The main finding of the study suggests that brain function associated with craving for cigarettes fluctuates across the menstrual cycle in women smokers. Research emphasizes the need for gender-specific programs to quit smoking, as well as taking into consideration the menstrual cycle phase during addiction treatment in women. Women represent half the population and deserve to have researchers recognize their specific needs in future studies.

“A greater knowledge of the neurobiological mechanisms governing addiction should enable us to better target treatment according to the smoker’s profile,” said Mendrek.

Attempting to quit smoking is difficult, as with any addiction. Talk to a professional for advice on the best possible recovery options and help in personal recovery. Long-term success is possible with the decision to quit and become healthier.


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