ADHD and smoking


ADHD is a common risk factor for developing addictions, including smoking. This article will explore what we know about the relationship between ADHD and smoking.

Why do some people with ADHD like to smoke?

Many individuals with ADHD report that smoking makes them feel good and helps manage their symptoms. Although it can increase hyperactivity, it may also improve focus and calm them down. Research suggests that increased dopamine receptor availability from smoking, not just nicotine, may explain this. A lack of dopamine is associated with reduced attention regulation and impulsivity in people with ADHD. So, you may actually experience an improvement of your symptoms when you smoke.

There are also genetic overlaps between genes linked to smoking behavior and ADHD.

The Three main theories about adhd and smoking are :

  1. Self-medication hypothesis: One theory explaining the link between ADHD and smoking is the self-medication hypothesis. People with ADHD may use nicotine as a way to self-medicate and alleviate their symptoms temporarily. Nicotine is a stimulant, which can increase focus, attention, and cognitive function, making it particularly appealing to those with ADHD.
  2. Brain chemistry: Nicotine affects the brain’s neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine and norepinephrine, which are involved in attention and reward systems. These neurotransmitters are often imbalanced in people with ADHD, making smoking even more enticing as it provides a temporary boost in attention and focus.
  3. Social factors: Adolescents and young adults with ADHD might be more susceptible to peer pressure and the influence of friends who smoke. This can make it more challenging for them to resist picking up the habit themselves. Once they start it’s hard to stop.

What do the stats tell us about ADHD and smoking?




  • People with ADHD are more likely to smoke than their non-ADHD peers. They are:
  • About twice as likely to smoke
  • Likely to smoke longer
  • Likely to have a harder time quitting
  • Likely to start much earlier

According to an article in Attention magazine, individuals with ADHD often relapse more frequently and experience more emotional dysregulation and withdrawal symptoms. Emotional regulation is particularly challenging for those with ADHD, making quitting even more difficult.

Therapists can help teach emotional management skills and provide support during distress. Medication also aids in emotional regulation, so it’s essential to consider both therapy and medication before attempting to quit.

How can people with ADHD quit smoking?

Lirio Covey, PhD, a professor of clinical psychology, has researched how people with ADHD can quit smoking. Her advice includes:

  • Expecting several attempts to quit
  • Using nicotine nasal spray as the most effective method
  • Anticipating a decrease in depression and anxiety, with some possibly needing treatment for emerging depression
  • Recognizing that methylphenidate reduces ADHD symptoms but may not improve quit rates

In conclusion, people with ADHD are at risk of starting smoking earlier and having more trouble quitting due to nicotine potentially relieving some symptoms and genetic factors. Quitting may take multiple tries, using nasal spray, appropriate ADHD medication, and possible treatment for depression. While quitting may seem daunting, it’s not impossible. With medication, therapy, and support from loved ones, many have successfully quit smoking. Remember, it’s never too late to quit and improve your health!

References on ADHD and Smoking:

    1. Taylor MR, et al. (2022). Tobacco and ADHD: A Role of MAO-Inhibition in Nicotine Dependence and Alleviation of ADHD Symptoms. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 16. 845646-.
    2. Four things people with ADHD should know about smoking. Columbia University Irving Medical Center. (2015, September 14).
    3. Cigarettes and ADHD: A robust relationship that’s hard to break. CHADD. (2022, May 24).
    4. Low, K. (n.d.). Why people with ADHD are more likely to smoke cigarettes. Verywell Mind.
    5. Love, T. (n.d.). 2019 Annual International Conference on ADHD. In The Intersection of ADHD and Addiction: Myths and Truths. Philadelphia.

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