Okay, so there’s no vaccine for nicotine yet, but if researchers ever find one (like they did for cocaine), this recent study by a group at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that smokers are ready and willing. In fact, more than half of them were biting at the bit!
In case you’re wondering (and don’t feel like reading), the vaccine would work by producing nicotine antibodies in the vaccinated individuals. Those antibodies would attach to any nicotine in the blood and prevent it from doing its thing (binding to nicotinic Ach receptors) thereby making smoking, well… boring. Hopefully, when smokers stop feeling the effect, they’ll stop smoking. Or that’s the thinking behind the whole idea anyway. Given other research that shows that nicotine smoking leads to some pretty strong contextual associations (read: “the environment and other associated stimuli become very rewarding”), I doubt whether the vaccine would work as well as people hope.
But, at least smokers seem willing to try it!
When most people think about addiction, they imagine a person completely unable to control their cravings, always wanting the thing they’re addicted to. That was certainly my experience throughout most of my addiction.
So what happens when you just can’t have it? What happens when drug use is just not allowed? What happens if your life depended on it?
In a way, this question was at least partially answered recently in an article by a number of psychologists at the University of Tel Aviv. What the authors did was simple: They asked a group of heavy Orthodox smokers about their cravings, irritability, and difficulty avoiding smoking on a regular workday, and random day in which they were not allowed to smoke, and the Sabbath (the Jewish day of rest), during which they’re not allowed to smoke for religious reasons. The simple finding was that the participants craved smoking a lot less, were less irritable, and found it a lot easier to avoid smoking on the Sabbath than on any of the other two day.
The moral of the story? Smoking may be really addictive, but when the choice is a cigarette or eternal damnation, it’s a pretty easy one to make…
In the future, I’ll talk about how this idea of addiction within specific contexts has been shown to also exist for the effect of the drug (or behavior) itself!