Smoking During Adolescence as a Risk Factor for Attention Problems

Biol Psychiatry. 2015 Nov 1;78(9):656-63. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.06.019. Epub 2014 Jul 3.


Background: Cigarette smoking and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are highly comorbid. One explanation is that individuals with ADHD use cigarettes as "self-medication" to alleviate their attention problems. However, animal studies reported that exposure to nicotine during adolescence influences the developing brain and negatively affects attention. This is the first human study exploring the effects of smoking during adolescence on attention problems.

Methods: Longitudinal data on smoking and attention problems were available for 1987 adult and 648 adolescent monozygotic twin pairs from the Netherlands Twin Register. Twin pairs were classified as concordant/discordant for smoking and compared on attention problems. Within adult discordant pairs, the difference in attention problems between the smoking and never-smoking twins was first assessed cross-sectionally. In longitudinal analyses, the increase in attention problems from adolescence, when neither twin smoked, to adulthood was compared within discordant pairs. In subgroups with longitudinal data from childhood and adolescence, changes in smoking concordance and subsequent changes in attention problems were explored.

Results: Adult twins who ever smoked reported significantly more attention problems than their never-smoking co-twin. Longitudinal analyses showed a larger increase in attention problems from adolescence to adulthood in smoking twins than their never-smoking co-twin (p < .05). In childhood and adolescence, smoking twins had more attention problems than their never-smoking co-twin, whereas scores were similar before smoking was initiated or after both twins started smoking (not significant in all groups).

Conclusions: Results from this genetically informative study suggest smoking during adolescence leads to higher attention problem scores, lasting into adulthood.

Keywords: Adolescence; Attention problems; Causality; Discordant twin design; Longitudinal; Smoking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attention*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diseases in Twins / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychology, Adolescent
  • Registries
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Twins, Monozygotic
  • Young Adult