While vaping and e-liquid products have been a revolutionary method to remove cigarette addiction, it doesn’t always work for everybody. Extinction therapy, a tool to disassociate from triggers, is being looked into heavily by researchers. Addiction researchers believe that triggers in the surroundings are what cause people to go for a smoke. For instance, the sight of a packet of cigarettes automatically produces a small dopamine response in the brain (in anticipation that smoking may follow shortly).
An addict, who’s been smoking for several years, will embed neural pathways to purchasing and smoking cigarettes. Naturally, conditioned responses start becoming the norm. Smokers tend to usually go for a smoke when they either feel: hungry, angry, low, tired or stressed. In that sense, smoking behaviours not only happen as a result of the external environment. They also take place because of internal conditions.
Extinction therapy aims to create a disassociation between these triggers (particularly the external ones) so that smokers can choose to respond out of their will – rather than through habit. The way smokers lurch for cigarettes can quite arguably be described similarly to a Pavlov dog response. A stimulus is introduced, and a habitual reaction ensues. Extinction therapy aims to change the response.
A study from the Medical University of South Carolina demonstrated that participants who underwent two sessions of extinction therapy smoked significantly less than the control group. To that end, there’s a lot of promise in this type of treatment. Particularly for people who’ve tried everything to break their addiction, to no result.
Extinction therapy works by teaching smokers to unlearn the associations that drive their addiction. It works by showing smokers, footage of people smoking. Scientists believe that long exposure to environmental triggers (that are different to what smokers are used) is exactly what smokers need to make a change in their behaviour.
While we’re not sure if this treatment option is useful (many smokers relapsed), there does seem to be some potential here.