ADHD in Teens
The signs of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is among the most common childhood neurobehavioral disorders, usually appear in the first few years of life. While some of the symptoms may abate as a child grows into a teenager, many of them may remain. Teens with ADHD may have symptoms including inattention, impulsivity and over-activity. These symptoms can have a tremendous impact on a teenager’s life.
Other conditions, including learning disabilities, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder, are frequently diagnosed alongside ADHD in teens. Drug abuse, particularly the use of stimulants like cocaine, can mimic the symptoms of ADHD.
The symptoms of ADHD in teens are very much like those of ADHD in children, though some of those symptoms can abate while others intensify due to the hormonal changes that occur during adolescence.
Symptoms of ADHD in teens may include the following:
- difficulty concentrating
- excessive activity
- difficulty sleeping
As you might imagine, these symptoms can be difficult for teens to cope with. School problems may crop up due a difficulty focusing, remembering assignments or following rules. Teens with ADHD may become easily distracted. They may express boredom with routine class work. They may misplace or lose school materials, have difficulty waiting their turn and have trouble focusing on a teacher’s instructions. Teens with ADHD may be fidgety or forgetful. Grades and involvement in extracurricular activity may suffer, and teens may have difficulty gaining acceptance with their peers. Thankfully, however, proper diagnosis and treatment can improve many of these symptoms.
Risks associated with ADHD in teens
Drinking and drug use: Unfortunate statistics: Studies have found that teens with ADHD are more likely to be heavy drinkers and twice as likely to abuse alcohol than their peers. They are also more likely to use drugs and are as much as 3 times as likely to use drugs other than marijuana than teens without ADHD. Again, proper and prompt diagnosis and treatment for ADHD can reduce these risks.
Automobile accidents: More grim statistics: Research shows that teens with ADHD are between 2 and 4 times more likely than their peers to be involved in car accidents, perhaps due to their tendencies toward impulsiveness and risk taking. Again, diagnosis and treatment can mitigate these risks.
Treatment for teens with ADHD
Most of the major medical advisory panels – the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry – recommend behavioral therapy for teens with ADHD. But is therapy alone enough?
While some experts contend that behavior therapy without medication is adequate for treating teens with ADHD, others suggest that it’s best for children with ADHD to remain on their medication during their teenage years as well. In most cases, a combination of medication (including commonly prescribed stimulants like Ritalin, Adderall and Concerta, or nonstimulants like the norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor Strattera) and behavior therapy is recommended.
While therapy and medication can go a long way toward alleviating the symptoms of ADHD for teens, parents can also help in other ways. Perhaps most importantly, parents should foster open communication with their child, offering support, guidance, and a willingness to listen and to work together to address the issues as they come up. Remember, ADHD can affect not only school performance and other activities, but also social relationships and your child’s self-esteem. It’s important for teens with ADHD to know they have their family’s love and support, no matter what.
Tips for helping a teen with ADHD
- Set limits, directions and expectations that are clear and consistent.
- Stick to a reliable schedule every day, with a consistent time to wake up, go to bed and eat meals.
- Try to minimize distractions when your child is working on a task.
- Reinforce your child’s sense of self worth by celebrating good behavior and finding hobbies and extracurricular activities he or she can do well – whether it’s dance or karate, baseball or learning a musical instrument.
- Make sure discipline is clear and consistent and that misbehavior is responded to promptly, calmly and appropriately (with a loss of privileges or time sitting out from a group activity).
- Help your teen get organized and set proper priorities.
- Initiate a reminder system to help your child remember due dates for class projects, and to stay on task and on schedule.
- Don’t be afraid to bring your child’s teachers or school administrators into the loop. Make them allies as you help your child stay focused and productive at school.
- Limit screen time: Set clear parameters curtailing the use of TV, computers, video games and cell phones.
- Ensure that your teen gets adequate sleep.
- Get help if your teen’s oppositional behavior is very frequent.
- Reward your teen’s positive behavior.
- Feel free to get help yourself if you begin to feel overwhelmed. You don’t have to tackle your teen’s issues alone.