Increased subjective and reinforcing effects of initial nicotine exposure in young adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) compared to matched peers: results from an experimental model of first-time tobacco use


Individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at increased risk for adverse cigarette smoking outcomes, and little is known about factors underlying this risk. This study sought to evaluate the effects of initial nicotine exposure in young adults with and without ADHD using a novel paradigm of exposure to model initial smoking experiences. Participants were young adult nonsmokers (n = 61 ADHD, n = 75 Control) between the ages of 18–25 years (inclusive) who reported never having smoked a full cigarette, and no tobacco use in the prior 3 years. Participants were exposed to three different blinded doses of intranasally administered nicotine (0, 0.5, 1.0 mg) across three separate fixed dose experimental sessions. In subsequent sessions, participants were given the opportunity to self-administer nicotine under two different conditions—high and low cognitive demand. Physiological, subjective, and reinforcing effects of nicotine were the main outcomes. Nicotine plasma levels, and no group differences in effects of nicotine on heart rate or blood pressure, confirmed comparable dosing exposure across groups. ADHD participants reported significantly greater dizziness following nicotine, and greater pleasant subjective effects across all conditions, compared to non-ADHD non-smokers. There were no group differences on subjective reports of bad or unpleasant effects. Subsequent nicotine self-administration was significantly higher among non-smokers with ADHD, and their choices of nicotine were not influenced by cognitive condition. There are meaningful differences between young adults with and without ADHD with respect to the initial subjective and reinforcing effects of nicotine; and interventions to prevent use should start prior to typical age of experimentation among ADHD patients.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2: Subjective effects of nicotine by group across doses.
Fig. 3: Results from choice sessions by group and cognitive demand condition.


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Correspondence to Scott H. Kollins.

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Kollins, S.H., Sweitzer, M.M., McClernon, F.J. et al. Increased subjective and reinforcing effects of initial nicotine exposure in young adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) compared to matched peers: results from an experimental model of first-time tobacco use. Neuropsychopharmacol. (2019).

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