What does smoking have to do with Attention Deficit Disorder? Would it surprise you to know that there are several ways that the two are related? From before birth and well into adulthood, smoking can have an impact of people who have ADD/ADHD. Maternal smoking during pregnancy can affect fetal brain development. Exposing the fetus to smoke may also cause other problems that are related to Attention Deficit Disorder.
In an informational pamphlet about Attention Deficit Disorder, the National Institutes of Mental Health (United States) mentioned that there are studies that are suggesting that prenatal smoking may be responsible for some cases of Attention Deficit Disorder. A study published in 2007 lists the risks. When two specific genes are present that predispose a child to Attention Deficit Disorder, the risk for having combined type ADD/ADHD rises by as much as nine percent when the child has been exposed to prenatal smoke.
In 2009, the journal Biological Psychiatry detailed the risks of smoking by mothers of newborn infants. In addition to Attention Deficit Disorder, children were at higher risk for behavior problems and later drug use. The study found that these problems could lead to incidences of criminal behavior.
Finnish researchers have concluded that smoking causes long-term problems, like ADD/ADHD, for children exposed to nicotine en utero. One hypothesis for later problems for children of mothers who smoked during pregnancy is that fetal brain development is impacted by smoking. In examining records from 1987-1989, researchers found that children who were exposed to cigarette smoke en utero used more psychotropic drugs than the children who were not exposed. The highest use of psychotropic drugs was found in youth where the mother smoked more than 10 cigarettes a day during her pregnancy.
A recent study in China looked at the effect that environmental smoke, also known as second-hand smoke, has on the behavior of children. This study involved over 600 children. The researchers found that 25% of the children who were born to mothers who were exposed to second-hand smoke had almost 10% more behavior problems than children who were born to mothers who did not experience environmental smoke. In addition to externalizing behavior problems, children who are exposed to environmental smoke do not score as well on intelligence tests or in the areas of speech and language.
With so much data showing that maternal smoking is bad for the fetus and that environmental smoke is harmful for children, why do people smoke around children? A study conducted in 2003, suggests that nicotine can help enhance focus. Nicotine works to activate areas in the brain that are key players in focusing attention. This study imaged the posterior cortical and subcortical regions of the brain using a MRI. Nicotine was applied to the test subject through a patch. The effect on the brain was studied. This imaging showed improved focus after the application of the patch.
So, given all of the research, why do people smoke around children and pregnant women? For people who have Attention Deficit Disorder and who are not using medication, the need to find a way to focus is vital. Using nicotine might be one way that they are seeking to manage the negative symptoms of ADD. While medications for Attention Deficit Disorder are powerful drugs, so is nicotine. Couples who are contemplating having children would be well-served, as would their future children, by finding a smoking cessation program that works for them. A positive outcome for their children’s futures might depend on it.
Resources for further reading:
Elsevier (2007, May 24). Smoking During Pregnancy Can Increase Risk Of ADHD In Child. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬/releases/2007/05/070523103740.htm
Elsevier (2009, October 21). Maternal Smoking May Increase Newborns' Discomfort.ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬/releases/2009/10/091021100738.htm
American Academy of Pediatrics (2010, May 10). Exposure to prenatal smoking may lead to psychiatric problems. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com-/releases/2010/05/100504074835.htm
University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (2012, December 4). Second-hand smoke linked to children's behavior problems.ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com-/releases/2012/12/121204111812.htm
NIH/National Institute On Drug Abuse (2003, January 14). Scientists Identify Brain Regions Where Nicotine Affects Attention, Other Cognitive Skills. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com-/releases/2003/01/030114072413.htm