Deakin University world-first trial trains brain to quit smoking

09 February 2017

A world-first Deakin University trial is using "brain training" to help smokers give up for good.

The Inhibitory Smoking Training (INST) program, currently being trialled at Deakin's School of Psychology, uses simple computer-based exercises to train smokers' brains to improve their impulse control.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Petra Staiger said tobacco remained the leading preventable cause of illness and death worldwide, killing approximately six million people every year, including an estimated 15,000 Australians.

"Despite the wide-range of treatments designed to help people quit smoking, the vast majority relapse within six months," Associate Professor Staiger said.

According to Deakin cognitive neurosciences expert Dr Melissa Hayden, also on the INST research team, research suggests difficulties overcoming addiction may be partly due to an impaired ability to control automatic impulses.

"Recent advances in neuroscience have highlighted that one way to address this difficulty is by retraining people’s brains to improve their impulse control," Dr Hayden said.

The INST trial is a collaboration with Dr Natalia Lawrence in the UK, where this training task has already been found to be effective in helping people decrease the amount of unhealthy food they eat, leading to long-term (six months) weight loss.

It has also helped people significantly reduce their alcohol consumption.

Associate Professor Staiger said the brain training method could have significant benefits over other quit programs.

"For a start, it's cost-effective. Australians have highlighted that the financial costs associated with smoking are the number one reason they want to quit," she said.

"That means there’s a need for smoking treatments to not only be effective, but also cost-effective if they are going to facilitate quitting for good.

"If it works, this computer brain training task has the potential to reduce the global prevalence of smoking at no cost to the consumer."

Associate Professor Staiger said the program was also time-efficient.

"It only takes 10 to 15 minutes per day for two weeks," she said.

"Plus with brain training there are no negative side-effects. Quitting aids like patches or gum can sometimes have adverse side-effects which negatively impact their uptake and long-term adherence, but there are none of those issues here."

Associate Professor Petra Staiger said the team was still looking for participants in this exciting new trial.

"We're looking for smokers who wish to quit, aged between 18 and 60, living in the Melbourne metropolitan area and who smoke at least 10 cigarettes daily on average," she said.

"It's a very simple program and you’ll only need access to a computer and internet for a two-week period."

To find out more about the trial contact the INST team at inst@deakin.edu.au.

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Media release Faculty of Health, School of Psychology

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