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Salud mental

versão impressa ISSN 0185-3325


LARA MUNOZ, Ma. Del Carmen et al. Psicopatología y uso de tabaco en estudiantes de secundaria. Salud Ment [online]. 2006, vol.29, n.6, pp.48-56. ISSN 0185-3325.

When we talk about drugs, we usually think about illicit substances. However some substances apparently innocuous such as caffeine and other legal ones like tobacco and alcohol, are considered as abuse substances.

Nicotine has not been studied as extensively as other drugs. It is known that the pharmacological and behavioural processes that determine the addiction to nicotine are similar to those that determine the addiction to other drugs such as cocaine or heroine.

The main adverse effect of nicotine is death. According to the Global Burden of Disease study of the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and Harvard University, in 2020, tobacco will be the first individual cause of death in the world even over AIDS. Nicotine dependence can appear at any age, though it generally begins during adolescence, and it acts on the brain mechanisms of reward, indirectly by endogenous opioid activity and directly by dopaminergic pathways.

In the researches on drugs consumption among adolescents conducted in Mexico City during 1989, 1991 and 1993, it was observed that tobacco consumption has increased lightly but systematically, from 4.8% to 4.2%. The percentage of current users (in the last month) is 21.9%. At junior high school level it is 13.7%, and at high school level 34.4%.

Attention Déficit Disorder With Hyperactivity (ADDH).

Altough the relationship between ADDH and drugs consumption has been recognized none of the studies conducted in our country has included this variable.

ADDH is a disorder with a frequency of 1.7% to 18.9%. The difference between the reported percentages is attributed to the fact that definitions and methods used in the studies are not the same.

When the disorder is not treated, there is usually a gradual accumulation of adverse processes that increase the risk of pathology.

The relationship between ADDH and drug consumption is complex. In a study of adolescents who received treatment for drug abuse, it was observed that 50% of them met the criteria for ADDH. As well, this disorder was a bad prognosis factor, either to the addiction evolution and its treatment.

Another complex relationship is the one between ADDH and cigarette smoking. In a study conducted among adult smokers, the subjects with ADDH had an earlier onset of the tobacco addiction, compared to those who did not had ADDH. This finding was confirmed by Milberger, who in a four years follow up study, discovered that ADDH is a significant predictor on the early tobacco consumption.

ADDH can be considered as a risk factor in developing other addictions.

Although the relationship between ADDH and drug consumption has been studied, the reviewed researches show up some limitations :

Only clinical samples have been studied.

Most of the follow up studies have included just male individuals with ADDH.

In our country the effect of the clinical variables on drugs use have not been studied.

In ADDH as well as in drug consumption, it has been observed a remarkable influence of cultural variables, this emphasize the need of evaluating both problems in our country.

The following study was conducted under the hypothesis that ADDH and general pathology symptoms are higher among adolescents that have consumed tobacco than those who have not.

Material and methods

A comparative, cross-sectional survey of adolescent with and without tobacco usage was performed. Fifteen junior high schools in Puebla City were randomly selected. First year junior high school students who agreed to answer the questionnaires were included.

The studied variables were: symptoms of ADDH and general psychopathology symptoms.

ADDH symptoms were dimensionally evaluated with the Conners-Wells Self Report Scale (long version).

General psychopathology was rated with the SCL-90 which evaluates the intensity of symptoms in 9 subscales.

Tobacco consumption was determined by the Junior High school Students Questionnaire, developed at the National Institute of Psychiatry, which was used in the Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco consumption surveys in Mexico City. Tobacco consumption was considered positive when the questions about lifetime, and last month consumption were affirmative.

From the 15 junior high schools selected, a first year group was chosen at the beginning of the school term.

A written authorization from the parents was requested, so the students could answer to the questionnaires. It was inferred that all of them accepted because none of the parents refused explicitely.

The questionnaire about drug consumption was applied the first day. Before the application, it was explained to the adolescents, that the information would be confidentially handled; the questionnaire answers would be only known by the researchers and that the information would not be given to their parents or their teachers. The second day of evaluation, the Conners questionnaire was applied. The third day the students answered to the SCL-90.

All the questionnaires were applied at the beginning of the daily activities.

The 19 psychopathology subscales were compared between male and women and between the students with and without tobacco consumption in the last month and during lifetime. Although the statistical significance was determined with non parametric tests (Wilcoxon test), on the tables, means and standard deviations are shown. The analysis were done with the SAS 6.12. program. The significance level was determined at 0.05.


From 590 students registered on the selected groups, 544 (92%) were evaluated, the rest of them did not show up during the week in which the evaluations were performed. The mean age was 12 years with a standard deviation of 1, 57.3% (n=295) were males.

Twenty children (3.9%) have used tobacco during the last month. On the Conners-Wells Questionnaire, they had higher scores on all ten subscales. These differencies were statistically significant in seven subscales: Familial problems, Conduct problems, Cognitive problems, anger management problems, hyperactivity, Global index, and distractibility DSM IV.

General psychopathology symptoms also were higher in those individuals who used tobacco during the last month, compared to those who did not, in seven of the nine subscales the differences were statistically significant. Regarding the experimental usage of tobacco (ever in lifetime), 84 children (15%) answered affirmatively. The scores of these children were higher than the scores of children who denied ever smoked in all subscales of the Conners-Wells Questionnaire. The differences were statistically significant in nine of the ten subscales. In the SCL-90 the scores of the children who have used tobacco during lifetime, were higher in all subscales, except in phobic anxiety.


Our results confirm the proposed hypothesis that the students who consume tobacco present higher levels of psychopathology, compared to those students who have never used this substance. It is necessary to underline the fact that this is the first study in our country that correlates the tobacco consumption with psychopathology symptoms, evaluated in a structured way with valid and reliable instruments.

Palavras-chave : Attention deficit disorder; tobacco smoking; adolescents; psychopathology.

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