Many people self-medicate for ADHD with cigarettes. This connection can make quitting even more difficult.
People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are
This article explores the relationship between nicotine and ADHD, including how nicotine can affect ADHD symptoms, medications, and more.
When you use nicotine, it enters your body and activates the reward system in your brain, releasing dopamine. Dopamine, also known as the “feel-good” hormone, is a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of reward and pleasure.
When you feel the pleasure associated with a rush of dopamine, it encourages you to continue chasing the thing that caused that pleasure ― which is why nicotine has such a high potential for addiction.
Another possible reason a higher percentage of people with ADHD use nicotine is the impact it appears to have on ADHD symptoms.
For example, a
- executive dysfunction
- cognitive and behavioral inhibition
Because nicotine might improve these symptoms, some people with ADHD may use nicotine as a form of self-medication. This can greatly increase the risk of dependence.
Are people with ADHD more likely to smoke or vape?
There’s no research that compares the different types of nicotine people with ADHD use. But there do appear to be differences in cigarette and vape use among different groups.
A Gallup poll from 2021 found that young adults ages 18–29 years are more likely to vape, while older adults ages 30–64 years are much more likely to smoke cigarettes.
Several medication options can help reduce or manage ADHD symptoms, including:
- dextroamphetamine (Adderall, Dexedrine)
- lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)
- methamphetamine (Desoxyn)
- methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta)
- atomoxetine (Strattera)
- clonidine extended release (Kapvay)
- guanfacine extended release (Intuniv)
Currently, there’s no recommendation against using both nicotine and ADHD medications together. But research on the relationship between the two is limited.
Still, these studies show limited evidence of a relationship between nicotine and ADHD medications, so more research is needed.
Studies suggest that having ADHD may affect nicotine withdrawal and make it harder for people with ADHD to quit smoking or using nicotine.
Results showed that varenicline reduced nicotine withdrawal in participants with high hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms. Since varenicline reduced withdrawal symptoms in this group, it led to better treatment outcomes.
Resources for quitting with ADHD
If you have ADHD and want to quit smoking or using nicotine products, you’re not alone. Many resources can help:
- Smokefree.gov offers tools and tips to help guide you through the quitting process.
- BeTobaccoFree.gov provides information on tools that can help you quit smoking.
- The American Lung Association has a free Lung Helpline and Tobacco Quitline that offer support.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)offers phone and text messaging support lines.
- The CHADD Resource Directory maintains a database of professional health services for people with ADHD.
- FindTreatment.gov provides treatment resources for substance use and mental health.
Studies suggest that adults with ADHD have an increased risk of smoking or using other nicotine-containing products. When people with ADHD decide to quit using nicotine, they tend to experience more withdrawal symptoms and have a harder time quitting.
However, treatment for both underlying ADHD symptoms and nicotine withdrawal symptoms may help improve the chances of someone with ADHD quitting nicotine.
If you live with ADHD and have found it difficult to quit smoking or using nicotine, consider reaching out to a doctor for help. With the right treatment options and support, you can find a way to quit for good.