If you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may think reaching for a cigarette or a cocktail will help you calm down. You aren’t alone -- the condition makes it easy for many people to pick up one, or both, of these bad habits.
But the truth is they won’t help you manage your symptoms. And they’re just as bad for you as they are for people without ADHD. In fact, they may pose even bigger problems. You might be more likely to abuse these substances and have a harder time when you try to quit.
Smoking: What Are the Risks?
You already know smoking increases your odds of many health problems, from heart disease to cancer. Despite these risks, smoking has a short-term perk that can appeal to someone with ADHD: It can help you focus.
The problem is this: ADHD isn’t a short-term condition. The momentary gain in focus doesn’t compare to long-term problems with nicotine addiction.
Besides the major health risks, smoking may also:
The Problem With Alcohol and ADHD
People with ADHD turn to alcohol for different reasons:
- Many self-medicate to ease the distress that comes with the condition.
- Kids often use it to help them deal with social and academic problems.
- Many don’t realize alcohol will make their symptoms worse.
- There’s a strong link between impulsive behavior, which is common in ADHD, and heavy drinking.
Alcohol is never an ideal disease management tool. But people with ADHD often have trouble with impulse control and focus. They can strengthen alcohol’s effect on your body and mind. For example, you may be even less able to drive a car or process thoughts after you drink than someone without ADHD.
Cigarettes and Alcohol: No Substitute for Medicine
If you’re a smoker with ADHD, the warnings about cigarettes may not be enough to stop you from lighting up. Some people say nicotine helps ADHD symptoms like lack of focus.
But scientists have yet to offer solid proof. So far, studies have been small. Plus, the benefit you think you get from smoking may just be relief from withdrawal symptoms.
And even if you strongly believe smoking helps you pay attention, that’s just one part of the disorder. ADHD is also linked to low self-esteem, impulsive behavior, and other mental health problems. Cigarettes won’t help with any of those. And it’s well known that alcohol can make those things worse.
What Can You Do?
Unlike cigarettes and alcohol, these actually help ADHD. Take your pick:
- Behavioral therapy
- Behavioral therapy plus stimulant medication
- Stimulant medication alone
- Nonstimulant medication
As a bonus: Taking stimulant medication for ADHD may make you less likely to have smoking and substance abuse problems in the first place.