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ADHD and Nicotine Dependence: Why is There a Correlation?

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Teens with ADHD are more likely than their peers to start smoking AND become dependent on it. But why?

According to Reuters, once kids with ADHD begin smoking, they’re also twice as likely than those without the disorder to develop nicotine dependence.

A study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston doled out a questionnaire to 166 young adults aged 15 to 25 that measured physical dependence to nicotine. The average score of those participants with ADHD was double that of those without the disorder - which suggests those with ADHD are twice as likely to become addicted.

While it’s not perfectly clear why this correlation exists, there IS evidence that nicotine, to some capacity, affects the brain in the same way that ADHD medication like Ritalin does.

In fact, past research done at Duke University suggested that the use of nicotine patches improved cognitive function.

Let’s take a moment to break the biology down.

There is an area in your brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is critical when it comes to cognitive function. According to the lead researcher at Duke, “[The hippocampus has] long been known to be very important in terms of cognitive function, so the nicotine receptors there seem to be very intimately involved in learning and memory.”

Now back to the study at Mass Gen in Boston. You might be wondering whether ADHD was the only differentiating factor at play. Well, it wasn’t - participants with a friend or loved one who smoked were more likely to have a severe nicotine dependence.

However, environmental factors like having parents or siblings around who smoke had a MORE severe impact on participants with ADHD than they did on those without the condition.

So what do you think? Could people with ADHD be using cigarettes and other forms of nicotine to self-medicate?

For more information on ADHD, watch the MedCircle original series Navigating the Ambiguity of ADHD with Dr. Domenick Sportelli.

Sources: Reuters , The Scientist


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