You know the dangers. You know smoking cigarettes greatly increases your risk of lung cancer, heart disease and other health problems. But you can’t seem to quit. If you have ADHD your chances of smoking are increased. Numerous studies have shown that the rates for smoking are around twice as high for adults with ADHD than for their non-ADHD counterparts.
There are a number of theories as to why the rate of cigarette smoking is so high in those with ADHD:
It’s in Your Genes
Your genetics might play a role (however this isn’t an excuse to continue smoking). Scientists have discovered that some of the genes responsible for ADHD are also associated with smoking. These genes might put you at a higher risk for using tobacco. Although researchers don’t fully understand the relationship between these genes, the symptoms of ADHD might interfere with genes to increase your smoking risk.
Smoking tends to run in families. If your parents smoked, there is a higher chance that you will too. And since ADHD also runs in families, there is a high chance that at least one of your parents has ADHD, even if never diagnosed. That means they are also at increased risk for smoking. Research has also shown that exposure to cigarette smoke in utero increases your chance of developing ADHD.
Nicotine is a stimulant. It works in much the same way as stimulant medications do. Studies have shown that nicotine can increase attention, memory and impulse control. For some people with ADHD, nicotine is an easily accessible way to reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Scientists believe this might be because the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine are low in those with ADHD. Nicotine increases these chemicals, therefore reducing the symptoms.
Trouble with Quitting
Besides having a higher rate of smoking, adults with ADHD seem to find quitting smoking more difficult. Although little research has been done in this area, one study of people who were lifetime smokers found that adults without ADHD were twice as likely to report being an "ex-smoker" as those with ADHD. The reasons for the increased rate of smoking are considered possible causes of the difficulty in quitting.
Stimulant Medications and Quitting Smoking
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics showed promise that treating ADHD symptoms can help prevent smoking in teens. The study looked at teens with ADHD and found that those who were treated with stimulant medications had a lower rate of smoking than those who were not treated. Although this study shows promise, it doesn’t provide information on how to help those who do smoke stop.
For more information on ADHD and Smoking:
"ADHD and Smoking," 2008, Francis Joseph McClernon and Scott Haden Kollins, Annals of the New York Academy of the Sciences
"Where There’s Smoke, There’s…ADHD," 2012, October, Scott Kollins, PhD, MS, CHADD.org
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.