For the study, a Duke University team used a nasal spray to determine how nicotine affected 136 non-smoking volunteers, aged 18 to 25.
ADHD sufferers choose nicotine
About half had been diagnosed with ADHD. The others had no diagnosed mental health conditions.
In the first three sessions, participants were given two different doses of nicotine spray as well as a placebo spray with no nicotine. In later sessions, the volunteers chose between a nicotine or placebo spray, but did they did not know which spray contained nicotine.
The participants first did this while relaxing and then while solving math problems.
"Regardless of demand conditions, the people with ADHD chose the spray with nicotine," said study lead author Scott Kollins. He's a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Duke's School of Medicine.
"Meanwhile, the people who did not have ADHD chose nicotine more often when they had to work on the cognitively challenging math problems," he added.
The findings suggest "that the very first exposure to nicotine might be more pleasurable or reinforcing for individuals with ADHD, which in turn may lead to higher rates of dependence," Kollins said. "This is important both for combustible cigarette smoking and the possibility of getting hooked on e-cigarettes."
Potential risk for addiction
The study was published online recently in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
Nicotine affects brain physiology that's involved in ADHD, the researchers noted.
When the investigators followed up with the participants six months after the study to find out if any had started using nicotine or tobacco, they found that none had.
Even so, the findings underscore the importance of talking to young people with ADHD about the effects of nicotine and their potential risk for addiction, the study authors said.
"It's not enough for us to wait for kids and adolescents who have ADHD to have already experienced nicotine," Kollins said. "We should talk to them about that sooner, before they have their first puff of a cigarette or vape with e-cigarettes."
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