ADD/ADHD, Nicotine and Smoking

ADD/ADHD places young people not only at a greater risk of smoking cigarettes, according to a recent study, but it also increases the chances they may be “more seriously addicted to tobacco.

These are the findings of a study conducted by the Massachusetts General Hospital published in the Journal of Pediatrics. The research also revealed that these individuals may be more vulnerable to smoking if exposed to environmental factors, such as friends or parents who smoke.

But that’s not all, the researchers discovered that even if the persons did not have all the symptoms to qualify as an official diagnosis of ADD/ADHD, they were still at a greater risk than others for this addiction. The more symptoms they exhibited, the study concluded, the greater their chances of becoming dependent on nicotine.

This isn’t the first study, though, to show that young persons with ADD/ADHD are more likely to smoke cigarettes – and start smoking at an earlier age than the average. This study, however, demonstrates the severity of the dependency on nicotine.

The study chose participants from two previous long-term studies – one involving boys, the other girls. These particular studies originally analyzed several factors. In both of these studies, the participants completed a questionnaire which evaluated their smoking history as well as the extent of their tobacco dependence – if any.

The study evaluated responses from 80 participants with ADHD as well as 86 individuals without the disorder.
Sixty nine percent of those with ADD/ADHD had smoked at some point in their lives; 41 percent of those individuals were still smokers. This compares to 44 percent of individuals without ADD/ADHD who had ever smoked. Moreover, only 17 percent of those were still smoking.
This study is interesting because it actually suggests that certain biological events may be at work that could possibly be the underlying causes of both ADHD and nicotine dependence.
Previous studies as well as experience have already revealed some link between ADD/ADHD and nicotine use.

“We’ve already shown that nicotine-based medications can treat ADHD symptoms, said Timothy Wilens, MD, director of the Substance Abuse Program in the Massachusetts General Pediatric Psychopharmacology Department. “[A]nd it’s known that the children of mothers who smoked during pregnancy are at greater risk of ADHD.”
You can read the entire article here.

To learn about a comprehensive program to help kids and teens to succeed with their ADD and ADHD, click here.


Dr. Kenny

[tags] Smoking, Nicotine, ADD, ADHD [/tags]


  1. So smoking parents can become a risk factor of suffering ADHD, and ADHD will increase the possibilities to become a smoking person. Is that because ADHD patient has a greater tendency to get addicted? how can nicotine based medicine helps ADHD patient? Wouldn’t it would make the ADHD patient addicted to that medicine?

  2. @dextro … Don’t all ADHD/ADD medicines cause addiction (as I know most of them are amphetamines) ? … Actually anything that makes you feel better is addictive (that’s how the human brain works). But I don’t know about making nicotine (ore nicotine related compounds) a medicine for ADHD tho, I’m a smoker (for 6-7 years, around a pack a day) with ADHD and quitting smoking is extremely hard (it renders me completely useless during the first week or two, can’t focus on anything not even simple things like writing a comment, I get extremely nervous, sleeplessnes and “super-hyperactive”), I’ve tried 5 times and haven’t managed quitting yet so I don’t think that nicotine is the answer unless you want to turn ADHD patients into “crackheads”. I hope people with ADHD read what I wrote and don’t do the same mistake I did (Starting smoking).

  3. I left this as a post on another thread, but I feel so strongly about this that I am repeating myself.

    I quit smoking with the use of the patch (for the second time) last fall, and because I liked the feeling that it gave me — i was more even, less prone to sudden bursts of anger, and could concentrate better — I decided to heck with it, I’m not going off. And what I really like is that while it doesn’t have the initial amazing calmness and focus I got with Adderall, it didn’t devolve into 10 percent of its efficacy after a few months either. I put it on every day, and have no plans to go off. And all this time I theorized that I bet nicotine would be good for people with ADD….and so I googled the two together and found this article!
    I bet if you do a study on all the people who can’t give up the gum or who really really have trouble quitting, I bet 95% have ADD. I read that Augusten Burroughs is a total addict of the gum — chews like 40 pieces a day — and if he doesn’t have ADD, then no one does.

    Remember: I have not seen a single study that shows that nicotine and/or nicotine dependence is bad for you — it’s only bad for you insofar that it makes you keep smoking, and that one is a whopper. But I haven’t had a cigarette in 9 months, but my ADD is much more manageable. So what’s the downside here? That I’m addicted to something that’s not bad for me and that is helping me with no discernible downside except for the expense? What I am trying to say is that being addicted to nicotine need not be a problem as long as you’re not addicted to smoking.

  4. ADD Medications Increase My Desire to Smoke

    I have been smoking casually since I first started taking ADD medication. I didn’t realize the connection until recently when I lost my insurance. I now go for extended periods without taking the medication. When I don’t take it, I have no desire to smoke at all and find it disgusting. When I do take the medication my cravings are so strong that I end up going to the store to buy cigerates the same day. It doesnt matter what I take, Dexedrine, Ritalin or Adderall – it is the same. It makes me not want to take the medication but than I am not productive. There needs to be a study for sure but you can bet on the fact that drug companies will not do it.

  5. I started smoking before being diagnosed at 33 with ADHD…had all the scans done which show (typical ADHD results) smaller frontal cortex, reduced nueron activity in frontal cortex, sub-average glutamate metabolism, low blood suger levels and low dopamine levels…. the latter plays directly into nicotine… in general the faster a psycotropic drug breaches the blood brain barrier the the more addictive it can be… smoking = fastest drug transmission/ absorbtion rate-lungs to blood to brain… where nicotine causes a huge dopamine dump into the brain… dopamine deficiets are the root of ADHD symptoms as dopamine facilitates working memory, linear thought(task management, prioritization, ect.) and executive function… as I said before I started smoking before being Diagnosed with ADHD… almost three years later my doctor and I finally figured out the right combo ot meds… for me…adderalXR is key… generics do not work at all… and even more interesting I take one 10mg and one 30mg….i know its strange and more expensive but two 20mg of even the adderal XR are not nearly as effective as this combo which I have been on for almost a year… so keep trying until you find what works for you… on the original point (meds have worn off :))…. I gave up smoking a year ago and experienced little if any withdrawl symptoms… it was as if I had just decided to give up soda… My therory then and now centers around Dopamine… all stimulant meds for ADHD also significantly increase dopamine specifically in the prefrontal cortex… so it stands to reason that if ADHD people who smoke are subconciously fixing a chemical imbalence… look at it this way… when a three year old is thirsty they dont think “gosh… I am thirsty… so my body must be dehydrated… I had better drink some water to correct the problem” along the same lines ADHD people ,diagnosed or otherwise, dont think ” gosh… I am a bit more flaky than usual… so my dopamine levels must be lower than normal… I had better go smoke a cigarette to correct the problem” still in essence that is exactly what is happening each time an ADHD person smokes a cig… they are increasing the dopamine levels…I’m not saying go out and smoke… what I am saying as are the research trials is that it is the nicotine in the tabaco that increases dopamine levels not the cig itself… nicotine itself although a psycotropic substance and as such addictive may not be the anti-christ of popular culture… infact recent clinical trials at harvard, yale and columbia have shown several beneficial properties not just for ADHD, but also neuron protective qualities in Alzheimer patients… Research into nicotine and dopamine relationships is really cool cutting edge stuff with potential treatment applications for ADHD, Alzheimer’s and even Schizophrienia…. all of which are characterized by chronic low dopamine levels.

  6. Very interesting study, the percentages are really quite high. From a personal point of view it confirms what i already suspected…As aan adult child of two smokers, from a very young age as an undiagnosed ADHD -er I was looking for stimulation, my first stimulant of choice was sugar, then I began smoking and drinking coffee in earnest at age 11! I can recall still the feeling of focus it gave me, especially when I had to think in linear way, like a telephone conversation or some written work etc.. When I finally quit smoking it was the hardest thing I had ever done, I had many many failures before it finally stuck.
    I still look for stimulation today, fortunately for me, I am maturing (somewhat) and the things I do now that provide stimulus are much more sedate and healthier!

  7. I have spent most of my life under the belief that I have dyslexia, I have just found out that it might be ADD. I am / have been a very heavy smoker, 50 to 60 a day for 30 years. Currently on the many 100th time of stopping smoking.
    I go totally insane, effectively turning into the nastiest person in the world when I stop smoking, the feeling of wanting to pull the top of my head off, and the feeling my chest might explode at any minute. No one around me is safe due to aggressive attacks.
    This is no short term addiction dependency, I truly feel this is something else. I have tried EVERY method to stop smoking over the last 15 years. It is always the same, stopping smoking is no problem, staying stopped, big problem, severity of symptoms increases with time, I have gone many months even years stopped, but the turning point is always around 9 months, the point when I cant stand the different insane me any longer.
    It is very clear that my brain requires nicotine or something in cigarettes to function normally.
    If there is anyone out there who can help me, PLEASE PLEASE GET IN TOUCH.

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