Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at increased risk for smoking cigarettes, but there is little longitudinal research on the array of smoking characteristics known to be prognostic of long-term smoking outcomes into adulthood. These variables were studied into early adulthood in a multi-site sample diagnosed with ADHD combined-type at ages 7-9.9 and followed prospectively alongside an age- and sex-matched local normative comparison group (LNCG).
Cigarette smoking quantity, quit attempts, dependence, and other characteristics were assessed in the longitudinal Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD (MTA) eight times to a mean age of 24.9 years: ADHD n=469; LNCG n=240.
In adulthood, the ADHD group had higher rates of daily cigarette smoking, one or more quit attempts, shorter time to first cigarette of the day, and more severe withdrawal than the LNCG. The ADHD group did not appear to have better smoking cessation rates despite a higher proportion quitting at least once. Smoking quantity and nicotine dependence did not differ between groups. The ADHD group reported younger daily smoking onset and faster progression from smoking initiation to daily smoking across assessments. Finally, ADHD symptom severity in later adolescence and adulthood was associated with higher risk for daily smoking across assessments in the ADHD sample.
This study shows that ADHD-related smoking risk begins at a young age, progresses rapidly, and becomes resistant to cessation attempts by adulthood. Prevention efforts should acknowledge the speed of uptake; treatments should target the higher relapse risk in this vulnerable population.