The link between ADHD in adults and nicotine

Adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to smoke cigarettes and become addicted to nicotine. They may also find it harder to quit. Researchers are studying why this is the case.

ADHD is often associated with children, but it can continue into adulthood.

According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), up to 10 million adults in the United States (US) suffer from ADHD.

Nicotine is a natural component of tobacco. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains that nicotine can alter brain function, leading to cravings and addiction.

Tobacco products, such as cigarettes, rapidly deliver nicotine to the brain. This satisfies a person’s cravings for nicotine. However, it is also easier for a person to become addicted to it, and it is more difficult to quit smoking.

This article explores the link between ADHD and nicotine.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can affect children and adults. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)people with ADHD show a pattern of symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity.

Some of the symptoms of ADHD, according to the CDC, include:

People with ADHD can show symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity, but usually people with ADHD show both.

A healthcare professional can diagnose an adult with ADHD if they have at least five of these symptoms and the symptoms have been present for at least 6 months.

Symptoms must also be present in two or more settings, such as home and work, and they must negatively impact a person’s functioning and performance.

Learn more

Learn more about diagnosing ADHD.

People with ADHD are more likely to start smoking cigarettes than people without ADHD. They may also have more intense withdrawal symptoms when they quit smoking.

A study 2016 compared the smoking behaviors of young adults and found that those with ADHD were significantly more likely to become daily smokers than those without ADHD.

The researchers also note that after participants quit smoking, those with ADHD reported more intense withdrawal symptoms and stronger cravings than those without ADHD.

Adult smoking trends in the United States are declining, according to the CDC. However, this trend is not reflected in people with ADHD, suggesting that ADHD is a risk factor for smoking.

CHADD estimates also suggest that young people with ADHD are twice as likely to become addicted to nicotine as their peers without ADHD.

Learn more about the link between ADHD and substance abuse.

Why is nicotine consumption higher in people with ADHD?

One explanation could be that some people with ADHD find that nicotine helps them manage their symptoms.

The stimulating effects of nicotine can help improve attention and concentration in people with ADHD. This theory is called the theory of self-medication, according to research 2015.

However, a 2017 study indicates that receiving early treatment with prescribed ADHD medications does not prevent nicotine use.

People with ADHD tend to have more difficulty quitting smoking than people without ADHD. Further research is needed to find out why, but a 2018 report shows that people with ADHD are more prone to making impulsive decisions and often prefer a smaller immediate reward to a greater reward in the future.

People with ADHD may be more likely to seek out the quick fix that smoking offers because it is a behavior that provides immediate reward.

However, more research is needed to fully understand why nicotine intake is higher in people with ADHD and why they have more difficulty quitting smoking.

According to CDC, doctors often prescribe stimulants to help people with ADHD manage their symptoms. Nicotine stimulates the brain in a similar way and can help a person focus on a task and increase concentration levels.

A study 2016 suggests that nicotine has beneficial effects on concentration, attention, and emotional regulation in people with ADHD.

However, the effects are short-lived. Over time, many people need to smoke more cigarettes more often to get the same effects.

Additionally, people with ADHD have a harder time quitting smoking and may experience more intense withdrawal symptoms.

According to CDCsmoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States

People who smoke are more likely to develop health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer than people who don’t smoke.

In addition to the usual risks of smoking, research suggests that young people with ADHD who smoke are more likely to abuse other substances, including alcohol and other drugs.

The reasons for this are not yet known and further research is needed to explain the link.

Find out why smoking is bad for your health.

This section answers some frequently asked questions about ADHD and nicotine.

Can nicotine affect ADHD medications?

Nicotine is a stimulant that acts on the brain similar to some of the drugs used to treat ADHD.

Although most ADHD research has focused on children, there is no evidence to suggest that nicotine interferes with ADHD medications.

Can quitting nicotine affect ADHD?

The health consequences of smoking cigarettes are the same for people with and without ADHD. However, a study 2016 suggests that people with ADHD may experience withdrawal symptoms more strongly than those without ADHD.

Many nicotine withdrawal symptoms are common traits in people with ADHD. These symptoms can include:

According to a 2017 study, some people with ADHD believe the severity of these symptoms increases during nicotine withdrawal.

A person with ADHD should continue to take all prescribed medications while quitting smoking. This can help reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Find out what happens to your body when you quit smoking.

Smoking increases the risk of:

  • cancer
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • Diabetes
  • and more

The CDC says quitting smoking is one of the most important steps a person can take to improve their health and quality of life.

A person with ADHD may find it more difficult to quit smoking, but there are ways to help. Some useful methods include:

  • Behavioral therapies and counselling: People with ADHD who are trying to quit smoking may find behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), beneficial. Therapy can offer coping strategies to help people resist cravings.
  • Use incentives: A person with ADHD may find it helpful to use reward-based practices when trying to quit smoking. an older one Literature review 2010 found that monetary incentives could help people with ADHD quit smoking. A person could replicate this by allowing themselves to feast every 10 days without smoking, or by using an app that rewards a person for good habits.
  • Use nicotine substitutes: Products such as nicotine patches or gum can also help reduce cravings or withdrawal symptoms for those who have trouble quitting smoking.
  • Using alternative medicine: Though there is limited evidence to support effectiveness, some people use complementary medicines, such as hypnotherapy and acupuncture, to quit smoking.

Some people may find that it takes several attempts to quit. This does not mean that a person has failed to quit smoking. Each attempt can show a person which methods are most useful to him.

Anyone with ADHD who is trying to quit smoking should see a healthcare professional for help.

Here are 11 useful tips for quitting smoking.

In 2019, the US government raised the legal age at which someone can purchase tobacco for 21. This includes the sale of electronic cigarettes. The hope is that this will deter young people from starting to smoke.

Ideally, someone with ADHD will have access to medications, counseling, behavioral therapies, and educational support to help them cope with the disorder and avoid behaviors such as smoking.

Proper medication will eliminate the need for self-medicating. However, traits of the disorder, such as impulsiveness, risk-taking, and seeking immediate rewards, can still drive a person to smoke.

The earlier a person quits smoking, the easier it is and the sooner they see the health benefits.

Learn more about medications for ADHD.

People with ADHD are more likely to smoke and have a harder time quitting than people without ADHD. They may also experience withdrawal symptoms and stronger cravings.

Adults with ADHD who use cigarettes to help manage their symptoms may find that with proper medication they can quit smoking.

Behavioral therapies and personalized counseling can also help people cope with any cravings associated with nicotine withdrawal.

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