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ADHD Treatment Reduces Smoking Risk, Research Finds

Update Date: May 12, 2014 09:35 AM EDT

Treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with stimulant medication has been observed to reduce smoking risk, according to a new study. The observation is well founded when the medication is taken consistently. 

"Given that individuals with ADHD are more likely to smoke, our study supports the use of stimulant treatment to reduce the likelihood of smoking in youth with ADHD," said senior author Scott Kollins, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of the Duke ADHD Program, in the press release. "The risk is further lowered when adherence to medication treatment is consistent, presumably since this increases the chances that symptoms are managed effectively."

ADHD is common childhood disorder that can continue through adolescence and adulthood. The disorder is characterized by hyperactivity, difficulty in paying attention and impulsivity. It is commonly treated with stimulant medication and behavior therapy. 

Research on how stimulant medications influence smoking behaviors in individuals with ADHD has led to mixed results. Some studies suggest an increase in smoking among those treated with stimulant medications, while others showed no effect or a decrease in smoking, the press release added. 

"Nicotine operates on the same pathways in the brain as stimulant medications, and the relationship between stimulants and smoking has been controversial," said lead author Erin Schoenfelder, Ph.D., clinical associate and a psychologist in the Duke ADHD Program, in the press release.

"It has been suggested that some people with ADHD 'self-medicate' their attention deficits using nicotine," Schoenfelder said. "Our findings show that treating ADHD effectively with medication may prevent young people from picking up the habit."

The research involved an examination of 14 longitudinal studies of cigarette smoking and ADHD treatment. Researchers said the study is the largest meta-analysis on the issue to date.

"My hope is that this research can help inform our efforts to prevent negative outcomes for kids with ADHD, including cigarette smoking," Schoenfelder said. "This population hasn't been targeted for smoking prevention efforts, despite the well-known connection between ADHD and smoking."

The findings appear online in the journal Pediatrics

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