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Does ADHD Make People Smoke?

A new research study by Columbia University Medical Center will investigate whether smoking helps individuals reduce common symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD). If smoking is a form of self-medication, should treatment for ADHD be combined with treatment to help people quit smoking?

Lirio S. Covey, Ph.D., director of the Smoking Cessation Program at Columbia University Medical Center, is trying to find out.

Does ADHD Make People Smoke?Covey and her colleagues are recruiting smokers who have been diagnosed with ADHD or who may have symptoms of ADHD but have not yet been diagnosed, to be part of a study that will help them quit smoking. Approximately 7-8 million adults in the U.S. have ADHD. Smoking is twice as common in this population as in the general population.

Research has shown that most smoking in the U.S. occurs among people who have psychiatric conditions, such as alcohol or drug abuse, major depression, anxiety and ADHD. One line of research has shown that smokers with these conditions “self-medicate” their symptoms with nicotine, the primary addictive substance in tobacco.

Participants in the study will receive the nicotine patch, behavioral counseling, and a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of ADHD called methylphenidate (brand name CONCERTA®). Because methylphenidate and nicotine act on the brain in a similar way, the premise is that treatment with methylphenidate when trying to quit smoking may reduce symptoms of ADHD while also reducing tobacco withdrawal symptoms.

These benefits together may lead to increased success in quitting.

“Nicotine seems to quell the symptoms for ADHD, but unfortunately the other ingredients in cigarettes and the act of taking in nicotine through the lungs makes it very bad for you,” says Dr. Covey. “Our hope is that we can affect some of the same receptors and transmitters activated by nicotine with this ADHD treatment so that smokers are relieved from their ADHD symptoms and are less likely to light up.”

The Smoking Cessation Program at Columbia University Medical Center is seeking participants aged 18- to 55-years-old to enroll in this study. The study, being run out of the New York State Psychiatric Institute located on the CUMC campus on the upper west side of Manhattan, is one of six sites funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to carry out this study in the U.S.

Participation is conditional upon completion of screening procedures including assessments to determine the presence of ADHD and the smoker’s level of cigarette use. Qualified participants will be randomized to receive either methylphenidate or an identical-looking placebo or sugar pill. All participants will receive the nicotine patch and 11 weeks of behavioral counseling. Reimbursement for time and travel will be offered to research participants.

For more information or to participate in the study, call the Smoking Cessation Program at Columbia University Medical Center at (212) 543-5905. The center is located at 1051 Riverside Drive in the Washington Heights community of northern Manhattan. All inquiries about the study will be kept confidential.

Relevant Stats:
Cigarette smoking is the number one health problem in the U.S.
About a quarter of New Yorkers still light up daily.
An estimated 450,000 Americans lose their lives as a result of smoking related disease.

Source: Columbia University Medical Center

Does ADHD Make People Smoke?
APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Does ADHD Make People Smoke?. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 16, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.