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Smoking Teens with ADHD at High Risk of Nicotine Addiction

Adolescence is a period of experimentation and peer pressure. It is also the stage where your ADHD child may develop damaging habits that could carry on into adulthood.  If your son or daughter is experimenting with cigarette smoking, do try to intervene and prevent a habit from developing. A new study by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital shows that smoking teens and adolescents with ADHD are more likely to develop serious nicotine addiction.  Additionally, they found that teens with more ADHD symptoms are more likely to be dependent on nicotine than those who have fewer symptoms.

The study involved looking at participants from two long-term studies (one on male teen smokers and the other on female teen smokers) that looked at a variety of factors compared to those of a control group of teens without ADHD.  The study's authors discovered that those who had ADHD started smoking tobacco a year and a half before those in the control group did.  21% of the ADHD participants also reported normal to severe levels of nicotine use, as compared to less than 1% from the control group. 

It's easy to see why teens with ADHD are more likely to be dependent on nicotine from tobacco.  Nicotine is a stimulant that raises the levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is often deficient in individuals with the disorder. Dopamine is also referred to as the "pleasure chemical" because it produces feelings of reward and pleasure. This can explain why it is so difficult to kick the habit of smoking once it starts.

ADHD teens' increased dependence on tobacco is connected to the fact that nicotine is a stimulant; cigarette smoking probably helps them make up for their inability to concentrate and pay attention.  A study published in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry interviewed 1,066 10th grade students from different high schools.  Those who had more symptoms of inattention were discovered to be three times more likely to have smoked or to be current smokers.  The study also notes that while inattentive behavior is significantly associated to cigarette smoking, symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity are not. 

While cigarette smoking can help improve attention in the short run, it causes serious health problems and can be counterproductive. A paper from the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that smoking can cause memory problems and impair reasoning during middle age. Although middle age is a long way off from adolescence, teens can get addicted to nicotine in just a matter of weeks – a habit that they can bring with them well into adulthood.  Get your child to stop smoking with these tips.

Understand what's going on

The easiest thing to do is to tell your child to quit smoking. But instead of threatening or commanding him or her, find out what made your child start.  Is your teen just trying to fit in with friends, or is the smoking due to stress?  Once you understand the reasons behind the smoking, you'll be able to address the issue and get your teen to stop smoking eventually.
Point out the cons

The obvious consequences of smoking like lung cancer and heart attacks are too far off in the future to be a real concern for a teen. Instead, point out the immediate negative aspects of cigarette smoking.  Here is a list you can start with.

  • The price of a pack of cigarettes. If you live in a major city like San Francisco or New York, a single pack of cigarettes can cost $10. Mention that there are many other things you can buy with $10, and ask your teen to calculate how much money he or she will be wasting on cigarettes each month.
  • Appeal to your child's vanity. Point out that cigarette smoking makes clothes, hair, and breath smell bad.
  • Smoking causes lethargy. If you smoke a certain number of sticks, cigarettes can work like a sedative.  Talk about how this can affect sports performance or energy levels for other activities.