Researchers have long wondered why kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD are more likely to take up smoking. Was it the medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? Or the lack of it? Was it exposure to second-hand smoke that caused the ADHD in the first place?
A new study concludes that the ADHD-smoking link is deeper than drugs or behaviors or exposure to toxins. It’s likely in a person’s DNA.
A Canadian research team, led by Dr. Ridha Joober of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal, found a variant in genetic markers among kids with ADHD. That same variant had been previously found responsible for an increased likelihood of becoming a smoker. So it’s not that smoking — or exposure to smoke — caused ADHD. Rather, the make-up of the genes that likely caused ADHD also predisposes a person toward nicotine addiction.
The findings, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, may also explain why kids with ADHD are more frequently born to women who smoked during pregnancy. The nicotine/second-hand smoke isn’t working the magic. Rather, the DNA that got her smoking is the same DNA that caused the kid’s ADHD.
Of course, gene therapy to prevent smoking is a long way away. And even the conclusions have yet to be tested. Though the study was large, the findings are preliminary and the study needs to be replicated and more studies need to be conducted in order to test the strength of the findings. But it’s an interesting angle on and could help direct public health strategies for preventing cigarette use.
“This genetic information would be crucial, once confirmed and furthered, to develop preventive strategies, especially since smoking in ADHD patients tends to start earlier in life and once initiated, is much more severe and harder to curve down than in the general public,” Joober told TIME magazine.