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ADD & ADHD Health Center

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Trouble Concentrating? A Patch on the Arm Could Help


"I think the Wilens' study is a good study, although further work is needed," Edward D. Levin, PhD, of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., tells WebMD. "Our findings are quite similar. We've done a few studies looking at the effects of the nicotine skin patch on attentiveness in adults with ADHD, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's patients and found significant improvement in attentional performance in all those groups."

Levin says that nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine, which may mean that nicotine's effects may be similar to that of Ritalin or amphetamine, which has also been used to treat ADHD. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that is responsible for aiding in the transmission of nerve impulses and has been identified as one of the important chemicals in ADHD. Evidence suggesting a role for nicotine in ADHD comes from studies which show that the smoking rate for adults with ADHD is double that seen in the general population and that people with ADHD smoke at an early age. "They may be smoking to self-medicate their symptoms of inattentiveness," says Levin.

"In no way am I recommending that any one take up or keep smoking. ... Actually, providing some nicotinic therapy might help prevent these people from taking up smoking for self-medication," Levin tells WebMD. "Nicotine has gotten a bad name in terms of being the drug in tobacco which underlies tobacco addiction. Nicotine itself or some of these nicotinic agonists hold great promise for therapeutics."

Wilens' research was funded by Abbott Laboratories, the nicotine patch manufacturer.

Vital Information:

  • For adults who suffer from moderate ADHD, the nicotine patch could be an alternative treatment to Ritalin or antidepressants.
  • The nicotine patch will not ever replace these other drug options, but further study is needed to determine who could benefit and what the dosage should be.
  • The rate of smoking among people with ADHD is double that of the general population, leading one researcher to suggest they may be attempting to self-medicate.
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