Why Smoking and Drinking Won’t Help Your ADHD

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:

  • Make you more hyper
  • Boost your anxiety
  • Make it harder to focus when you try to quit
  • Lower brain function after just 12 hours without a cigarette
  • Raise your odds of relapse if you do quit
  • Thin your brain’s frontal cortex, which helps you with learning, memory, attention, and motivation

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.

Continued

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:

As a bonus: Taking stimulant medication for ADHD may make you less likely to have smoking and substance abuse problems in the first place.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on September 05, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Columbia University Medical Center: “Four Things People with ADHD Should Know About Smoking.” 

Alcohol Research & Health: “The Clinically Meaningful Link Between Alcohol Use and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” 

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: "ADHD and Smoking.”

Smokefree.gov: “Health Effects.” 

Brain and Behavior: "How cigarette smoking may increase the risk of anxiety symptoms and anxiety disorders.” 

European Neuropsychopharmacology: "Effect of tobacco smoking on frontal cortical thickness development: A longitudinal study in a mixed cohort of ADHD-affected and -unaffected youth.” 

American Journal of Psychiatry: “Frontal Cortex Function,” “ADHD Medication and Substance-Related Problems.”

Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics: “Substance Use Among Adolescents with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Reasons for Use, Knowledge of Risks, and Provider Messaging/Education,” “Stimulant Treatment of ADHD and Cigarette Smoking.” 

Substance Use and Misuse: “Substance Use in Undergraduate Students With Histories of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.”

PLoS One: “The pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: A systematic review with network meta-analyses of randomised trials.” 

CNS Spectrums: “ADHD symptoms in non-treatment seeking young adults: relationship with other forms of impulsivity.” 

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