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Stimulants May Prevent Nicotine Addiction in ADHD Patients

May 12, 2014 04:14 PM EDT

Treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) patients with stimulant medication may actually help curb their desire to step outside and smoke, a recent study suggests.

Stimulants have long been associated with smoking. Some studies have revealed that some demographics, particularly young adults, who frequently use stimulants like energy drinks are also more likely to smoke cigarettes.

Understandably, this can worry the parents of minors with ADHD, who theorize that their child's stimulant medication might encourage them to take up the harmful habit. This theory is supported by past analyses which detail how adolescents with ADHD are two to three times more likely to smoke, compared to teens without the disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

However, a study published in Pediatrics suggests that it may be the disorder itself that encourages the increased likelihood of smoking, and stimulant medication may actually help quell or prevent ever developing an urge to smoke in the first place.

According to Duke Medicine researchers, nicotine and ADHD medications affect the same brain pathways, taking the "edge" of ADHD off the condition. However, nicotine is an inadequate from of treatment. The researchers theorized that many ADHD patients may take up smoking because they are not being adequately medicated with proper stimulant medication.

In a comprehensive review of 14 past studies that addressed the association between cigarette smoking and ADHD treatment, the researchers were able to assess data on 2,360 study participants with ADHD. They found that patients who were regularly receiving recommended stimulant medication to treat their ADHD were less likely to smoke cigarettes. They also found that this effect was most obvious among people with severe versions of ADHD that required continuous stimulant medication.

It should be noted that while the scientists were able to identify a relationship between ADHD stimulant treatment and lower smoking rates, they were unable to identify a causal relationship.

The study was published in Pediatrics on May 12.

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