Nicotine effects on adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Abstract

Several lines of evidence suggest that nicotine may be useful in treating the symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The current study was an acute, placebo-controlled double-blind experiment to determine whether nicotine might be useful as an alternative treatment of adults with ADHD symptomatology. Six smokers and 11 nonsmokers who were outpatient referrals for ADHD were diagnosed by DSM-IV criteria. Measures of treatment effect included the Clinical Global Impressions (CGI) scale, Hopkins' symptom check list (SCL-90-R), the Profile of Mood States (POMS), Conners' computerized Continuous Performance Test (CPT), the Stroop test, and an interval-timing task. The smokers underwent overnight deprivation from smoking and were given a 21 mg/day nicotine skin patch for 4.5 h during a morning session. The nonsmokers were given a 7 mg/day nicotine skin patch for 4.5 h during a morning session. Active and placebo patches were given in a counterbalanced order approximately 1 week apart. Nicotine caused a significant overall nicotine-induced improvement on the CGI. This effect was significant when only the nonsmokers were considered, which indicated that it was not due merely to withdrawal relief. Nicotine caused significantly increased vigor as measured by the POMS test. Nicotine caused an overall significant reduction in reaction time (RT) on the CPT, as well as, with the smokers, a significant reduction in another index of inattention, variability in reaction time over trial blocks. Nicotine improved accuracy of time estimation and lowered variability of time-estimation response curves. Because improvements occurred among nonsmokers, the nicotine effect appears not to be merely a relief of withdrawal symptoms. It is concluded that nicotine deserves further clincal trials with ADHD.

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Levin, E.D., Conners, C.K., Sparrow, E. et al. Nicotine effects on adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Psychopharmacology 123, 55–63 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02246281

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Key words

  • Nicotine
  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Attention
  • Treatment
  • Nicotine skin patches