Smoking is addictive and bad for the body in a laundry list of ways, but it hooks men and women differently. Researchers at Yale University studied the brains of men and women using positron emission tomography (PET) scans. Their intention was to measure the changing levels of dopamine, which control the brain’s pleasure and reward pathways, in men and women's brains, and published their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience earlier this month.

Dopamine levels increase when addictive substances, such as the nicotine found in cigarettes, enter the body and flood the brain. For the first time, researchers have developed a way to watch the dopamine levels change while a person smokes. Researchers observed the dopamine levels of 16 addicted cigarettes smokers — eight men and eight women — with at least 17 years of smoking behind them.

Each participant was told to smoke one or two cigarettes whenever they wanted while under observation, and they weren’t allowed to use any nicotine patches or medications during the study. The study’s lead researcher Kelly Cosgrove, a radiology professor from Yale University, scanned each of their brains, and pieced each of the images together in order to create a sequence of brain movements.

Dopamine struck women harder and faster in one section of the brain called the dorsal putamen, while men had moderate to low activation in the same area. Men, on the other hand, had much faster and consistent activity in the ventral striatum, while women were only mildly affected. But what did all this mean?

"I think it confirms that strategies that focus on drug reward are likely to work better for men –- these would include the nicotine replacement strategies [like the patch]," Cosgrove, told the Huffington Post. "And for women it highlights that we need different and new medications — ones that target the reasons why women smoke, such as to relieve stress and manage mood."

Women were more affected by the sensation of smoking, such as its taste and the smell of smoke, while men were more affected by the nicotine itself. Men are much more likely to use chewing tobacco because they don’t care about the cigarette or the activities smoking brings with it; they just want that nicotine. Women, on the other hand, may do better smoking a low-nicotine cigarette, so long as they have a cigarette in hand to take a drag and blow smoke from.

"If [women] are smoking more for the taste and sensory effects, then low-nicotine cigarettes might be an effective way to wean themselves off the regular cigarettes, whereas men might have more nicotine withdrawal and not really get much out of those [low-nicotine] cigarettes," Kenneth Perkins, a psychiatric professor at the University of Pittsburgh who was not involved in the study, told HuffPost. "The possibility is that they might be a more effective way for women to quit than men, but that's purely speculative at this point."

Source: Cosgrove K. Journal of Neuroscience. 2014.