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NIDA scientists review impact of smoking among adolescents with ADHD

Science Highlight

October 18, 2017

Single cigarette butt with ash isolated on white background©Shutterstock.com/Kenishirotie

Scientists in two separate studies funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) looked at how adolescent smoking and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms might interact to affect long term health and behaviors.

A team from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, examined the effects of childhood ADHD symptoms on the development of smoking in male and female adolescents. In what could be the first twin difference study to address effects of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity on progression of smoking during adolescence, the scientists collected data and interviewed 1881 sets of twins and their parents participating in the Minnesota Twin Family Study. Results suggest that adolescents who had more severe ADHD symptoms as children were more likely to initiate smoking and start younger. The association of ADHD symptoms with daily smoking, number of cigarettes per day and nicotine dependence was greater in females than in males. In addition, twins with greater attentional problems had greater nicotine involvement. These effects remained when co-occurring externalizing behaviors and stimulant medication were considered.

In another study from Brigham Young University, scientists wanted to determine if early cigarette use among adolescents with ADHD symptoms could predict subsequent illicit drug use. The study population was taken from 80 high schools and 52 middle schools participating in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Scientists interviewed subjects in their homes, using a computer-assisted survey to reduce response bias and maintain confidentiality. Scientists concluded that youth with ADHD symptoms who also smoked cigarettes were more likely to use illicit drugs at a later time. If smoking during adolescence plays a role in explaining why some children with ADHD symptoms progress to other drugs, prevention strategies and smoking cessation programs that target this high-risk population, in particular, could possibly lead to a decrease in subsequent drug use.

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