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Smoking During Adolescence as a Risk Factor for Attention Problems

  • Jorien L. Treur
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to Jorien L. Treur, M.Sc., Department of Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, Van der Boechorstraat 1, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    Affiliations
    Department of Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Gonneke Willemsen
    Affiliations
    Department of Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Meike Bartels
    Affiliations
    Department of Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Lot M. Geels
    Affiliations
    Department of Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Jenny H.D.A. van Beek
    Affiliations
    Department of Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Charlotte Huppertz
    Affiliations
    Department of Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Catharina E.M. van Beijsterveldt
    Affiliations
    Department of Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Dorret I. Boomsma
    Affiliations
    Department of Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Jacqueline M. Vink
    Affiliations
    Department of Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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      Abstract

      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

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      Linked Article

      • Consequences of Adolescent Smoking: Cognitive Performance, Brain Function, and Policy Implications
        Biological PsychiatryVol. 78Issue 9
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          Work published in 1997 showed a link between the diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and early initiation of smoking (1). This association has been interpreted as evidence that smoking provides a form of self-medication for a pre-existing problem, particularly one involving attention. Arguing against this view are the results of animal studies, which have shown that nicotine exposure during adolescence induces changes in brain development, neurochemical markers, and various behavioral measures (2), including evidence for increased vulnerability to drug abuse.
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