Smoking is bad for you, everyone knows that, but what researchers have recently discovered is that there are gender differences in the brain effects experienced from cigarettes. The research study was funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the NIH Office of Research in Women’s Health, and it involved a new brain scanning method not previously available. What the scans showed was surprising. Men who are dependent on nicotine experience a release of dopamine in the brain from smoking occurs in the ventral striatum of the brain, the area that is associated with reinforcement of drug use. Women who use nicotine experience a release of dopamine in the brain from smoking that occurs in the dorsal striatum of the brain, the area that is associated with the formation of habits.
The study on smoking, gender differences, and brain effects does not show that women are less dependent on nicotine, but that men are reinforced by the nicotine in the cigarettes while women may smoke for other reasons instead even though they are still dependent on the nicotine. The study results have caused researchers to evaluate whether part of the reason that women smoke is out of habit or for emotional and mood related reasons. Hopefully the results of the study can help modern medicine determine more effective smoking cessation programs. Millions of people around the world smoke cigarettes even though this habit has been shown to significantly increase health related risks, and more effective programs may help even the most dependent smokers quit.