Even though smoking rates have long been on the decline, nicotine addiction still affects 20% of the US population today. Moreover, nicotine dependence shows high comorbidity with many mental illnesses including, but are not limited to, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorders, and depression. The reason for the high rates of smoking in patients with mental illnesses may relate to attempts to self-medicate with nicotine. While nicotine may alleviate the symptoms of mental disorders, nicotine abstinence has been shown to worsen the symptoms of these disorders. In this chapter, we review the studies from animal and human research examining the bidirectional relationship between nicotine and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorders, and depression as well as studies examining the roles of specific subunits of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the interaction between nicotine and these mental illnesses. The results of these studies suggest that activation, desensitization, and upregulation of nAChRs modulate the effects of nicotine on mental illnesses.
Keywords: ADHD; Anxiety disorders; Depression; Nicotine; Nicotinic receptors; PTSD.
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