ADHD in Teens

Most children who are diagnosed with ADHD still have it as teens. Symptoms of ADHD in teens are similar to those of ADHD in children. They include:

  • Distractibility
  • Disorganization
  • Poor concentration
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity

During teen years, especially as the hormonal changes of adolescence are going on and the demands of school and extracurricular activities are increasing, , ADHD symptoms may get worse.

How does ADHD affect a teen's life?

Because of problems with distractibility and poor concentration, many teens with ADHD have problems in school. Grades may fall, especially if the teen is not getting ADHD treatment.

It's not uncommon for teens with ADHD to forget assignments, lose textbooks, and become bored with their daily class work. Teens may become inattentive, or excessively attentive -- not waiting for their turn before blurting out answers. They may interrupt their teacher and classmates, and they may rush through assignments. Teens with ADHD may also be fidgety and find it tough to sit still in class.

Often, teens with ADHD are so busy focusing on other things they forget about the task at hand. This can be seen especially with homework and athletic skills and in relationships with peers. This lack of attention to what they're doing often leads to bad grades on tests and being passed over for sports teams, after-school activities, and peer groups.

Does ADHD raise the risk of car accidents and problem drinking?

Yes. Driving poses special risks for teens with ADHD. Teens with ADHD are two to four times more likely to have a car accident than teens without ADHD.

Teens with ADHD may be impulsive, risk-taking, immature in judgment, and thrill seeking. All of these traits make accidents and serious injury more likely.

Still, studies show that teen drivers with ADHD who take their medication are less likely to have accidents.

Teens with ADHD are more likely to be heavy drinkers than teens without ADHD. They are also more likely to have problems from drinking.

In studies, teens with ADHD were twice as likely as other teens to have abused alcohol within the past 6 months and three times as likely to abuse drugs other than marijuana .

Getting the right treatment for ADHD may actually help to decrease the risk of later alcohol and drug abuse.

Continued

What's the recommended treatment for teens with ADHD?

There are many opinions when it comes to treating ADHD in teens. Some experts believe that behavior therapy alone may work for teenagers. But according to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 80% of those who needed medication for ADHD as children still need medication in their teen years.

Usually, a combination of medication and behavior therapy is best in treating teens with ADHD. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry all recommend behavior therapy to improve behavior problems that are a part of ADHD.

Stimulant medications are commonly prescribed to treat teens with ADHD. These drugs may make teens more alert and help them do better at school. Examples of stimulant medications include dexmethylphenidate (Focalin, Focalin XR), dextroamphetamine (Adderall, Adderall XR), lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), and methylphenidate (Concerta, Quillivant XR, Ritalin). 

Non-stimulant medications such as Intuniv, Kapvay, and Strattera are also used to treat teens with ADHD. Non-stimulant medications for ADHD  have different side effects from stimulant drugs. For instance, they don't often lead to anxiety, irritability, and insomnia as the stimulant drugs may. They also are not habit-forming and have less likelihood of being abused than stimulant drugs, which may make them a more appropriate option for teens with ADHD who also have alcohol or drug abuse problems.

Overmedicating doesn't help and can lead to thoughts of suicide, mood swings, and drug abuse.

Alternative treatments include elimination diets, the use of supplements, parent training, memory training and neurofeedback. These treatments are sometimes used along with prescribed medications and sometimes not. The FDA has approved Vayarin, a medical food that contains omega-3s, for treatment of ADHD. Vayarin is available by prescription only.

How can parents help a teen with ADHD?

ADHD affects all parts of a teenager's life. As a parent, your first goal should be to talk openly with your teen. Be supportive and accepting at all times. You can also enlist your child's pediatrician for help in discussing ADHD and its treatment.

By taking the following actions, you can help your teen manage ADHD:

  • Provide clear, consistent expectations, directions, and limits.
  • Set a daily schedule and keep distractions to a minimum.
  • Support activities where your teen can have personal success (sports, hobbies, or music lessons, for example).
  • Build your teen's self-esteem by affirming positive behavior.
  • Reward positive behavior.
  • Set consequences for bad behavior.
  • Help your teen with scheduling and organization.
  • Keep a structured routine for your family with the same wake-up time, mealtime, and bedtime.
  • Set up a reminder system at home to help your teen stay on schedule and remember projects that are due.
  • Work with your teen's teachers to make sure your teen is on task at school.
  • Stay calm when disciplining your teen.
  • Make sure your teen gets plenty of sleep. Set firm rules for the TV, computers, phones, video games, and other devices. Make sure all of these are turned off well before bedtime.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on May 09, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

CHADD: "Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder."

National Resource Center on ADHD: "Symptoms and Diagnostic Criteria."

CDC: "ADHD and Risk of Injury."

National Institutes of Health: "Severe Childhood ADHD May Predict Alcohol, Substance Use Problems in Teen Years."

News release, FDA.

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