ADHD In Teens: Why Does It Happen And How To Manage It?

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When we think of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, we think of a child no older than ten years. A common misconception is that ADHD is a childhood disorder. Perhaps that is why we do not look for ADHD symptoms in teens.

However, even teenagers develop this condition, and most of them have it through their adulthood. Here, MomJunction tells you about the symptoms, treatment, and management options of ADHD in teenagers.

The idea of ADHD in teens can be overwhelming. But with a little understanding of the condition and its symptoms, managing it won’t be difficult.

What Causes ADHD?

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Syndrome is a condition that usually affects children and teenagers. Although research indicates that ADHD could be genetic, experts have not been able to pinpoint the exact causes (1).

The following are the probable factors that contribute to the development of ADHD disorder in teenagers:

  • As mentioned earlier, studies have indicated that ADHD could be familial or genetic. So if the parent or a close relative had ADHD, the teenager might also be at the risk of developing the condition.
  • Physiological causes such as lack of specific neurotransmitters in the brain can also make it difficult for the child to focus. Studies have also noted that problems in the dopamine system of the brain could lead to ADHD in teens (2).
  • Environmental factors may lead to the development of ADHD in teenagers. Exposure to toxins, especially lead, or consumption of nicotine or alcohol during pregnancy can contribute to the child developing ADHD.

[ Read: Tips To Treat Mental Disorders In Teens ]

Other factors that can increase the risk of ADHD in children include:

  • Premature birth
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Low birth weight

Also, ADHD is more common in boys than in girls (3). And, ADHD affects teenagers in more ways than you can imagine. The teen may start performing poorly in studies; have difficulty understanding lessons; and have trouble concentrating on one thing for a long time.

Besides that, there may be other significant changes in the teenager’s behavior. Next, we tell you about the signs and symptoms that suggest that a teenager might have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

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ADHD Symptoms In Teens

One of the most commonly diagnosed conditions in teens, ADHD is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. In some cases, when the symptoms are mild, doctors may not be able to diagnose the condition. The symptoms, however, may become evident during adolescence.

Symptoms of ADHD in teens include (4):

  • Distraction and inability to pay attention to important things, resulting in silly mistakes
  • Disorganization – difficulty organizing schedules, activities
  • Inattention – might look like the teen is not listening when spoken to
  • Inability to follow instructions to complete tasks
  • Losing things frequently, often forgetful
  • Fidgety, moving things from one place to another, continually touching things in front of them and making noise when working, indicate hyperactivity
  • Inability to sit still at one place, even for a few minutes
  • Easily bored and restless
  • Talks impulsively, often cutting off other people who are talking
  • Impatience — becomes restless when waiting for their turn

These are the typical symptoms of ADHD, common in children as well as teenagers. Some of these symptoms may vary in frequency and degree and sometimes may be absent entirely. Only specialists such as psychiatrists, neurologists, and child psychologists may be able to detect even the milder symptoms and signs of ADHD.

Keep reading to know how.

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Diagnosing ADHD in Teenagers

It is quite possible that parents may take the symptoms of ADHD to be typical teen behavior. When undiagnosed, the symptoms of ADHD can become worse and have a negative impact on the teen’s quality of life. If you notice the above-mentioned symptoms in your child, take them to a specialist.

The medical professional would look into the child’s family history, medical history, lifestyle, and living conditions before using a standard questionnaire for ADHD diagnosis. However, the standard and accepted criteria for diagnosing a child with ADHD make it difficult for diagnosing a teen, who was never suspected of having ADHD as a child (5).

To be diagnosed with ADHD:

  • A person should have displayed at least three or more of the symptoms before the age of 12. Recollecting the child’s behavior and symptoms from the past cannot be easy, especially if parents did not suspect any behavioral issues with the child.
  • The behaviors must be severe when compared to other kids.
  • The child should have displayed the behavior for at least six months.
  • The child displays this behavior in different situations (home and school or elsewhere), resulting in a negative impact in those areas.

Also, the fact that the symptoms described in the medical journals and reference manuals were stated keeping children (and not teens) in mind can make the diagnosis of ADHD in teens tricky.

But, if the teen is diagnosed with ADHD, the doctor would recommend a course of treatment and lifestyle management tips.

Remember that ADHD in teenage girls and boys can be treated, but not completely cured.

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[ Read: How To Understand Teen Psychology ]

Treating ADHD In Teens

ADHD is a chronic condition, which means it is for life. While it cannot be cured, it can be managed with treatment. Lack of proper treatment also increases the risk of physical and mental health problems, poor academic performance, substance abuse, and financial stress (7).

Treatment recommendations vary based on the symptoms and their severity . The following treatment options are recommended for adolescents aged between 12 and 18 years.

1. Medications

The primary treatment option for treating ADHD in teens is medication. Following are a few medications that are commonly prescribed (7). The doctor may also monitor medicine usage regularly, to adjust the dosages as the teenager’s body goes through the changes of puberty.

  • Psychostimulants are used as primary drugs for ADHD. These drugs, commonly known by brand names such as Ritalin, Adderall, Dexedrine, and Vyvanse, can have a calming effect on the person. It is important to take recommended dosages of the medicine for controlling the symptoms.
  • Alpha-2 Agonists such as Tenex and Catapres may be prescribed to help the teenager concentrate better.
  • Atomoxetine is a non-stimulant drug that is used to increase the levels of neurotransmitters – norepinephrine and dopamine. These medications, however, have a high degree of side-effects in both kids and teens.

2. Behavior management at home

In addition to medications, behavioral management techniques are also necessary for managing ADHD in teens. Dealing with teens having ADHD needs a lot of patience and understanding that the brains of teens with ADHD are (three years) less mature than the brains of a normal teenager (8). Behavior therapy usually requires the assistance of qualified mental health professionals and caregivers.

The child could be a part of a group cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or individual behavior therapy. These therapies usually involve the family and other people who work with the child closely. Parents, teachers, and other caregivers of the child can aid the behavioral therapy process through learned-reactions to the teenager’s behavior.

Read on to know more about how you can help a teenager with ADHD.

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[ Read: Common Teenage Behavioral Problems ]

Managing ADHD In Teens

Bringing up a teen is tough. And bringing up a teen with ADHD could be a tougher challenge. While the medications work on minimizing the symptoms, you as a parent can work on modifying the child’s negative behaviors. Behavior change will not happen overnight. Different children may respond to the treatment and lifestyle changes differently.

Here are a few tips to best manage ADHD in teens:

  • Your teen can and will be challenging more often than not. Accept that fact and take it from there.
  • Make a list of behaviors that you think are negatively affecting the child and your family. Do not confuse silly humor as negativity because a person cannot always be positive.
  • Ensure that your child takes their medication regularly. Monitor your child’s medications to ensure that they are taking the prescribed dosage.
  • Set clear expectations and limits for the child. Make a routine and help the child stick to it. Have set TV, sleep, and meal times for all days and follow them.
  • Encourage your child to participate in whatever sport or hobby they like. Support their successes and encourage whatever brings out the best in them.
  • Reward positive behavior and have consequences for bad or negative behavior. Make sure that the responses are immediate and relevant.
  • Have patience and be calm when you discipline the teenager.

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[ Read: Oppositional Defiant Disorder In Teenagers ]

Children with ADHD are different from the others their age. Your teen will have difficulty ‘fitting in’ with the crowd and may feel left out often. And more often than not, a teen with ADHD might wonder what he did wrong to be that way.

That is a painful thought, for the child and for you too.

You can make the condition less painful by making your child understand what ADHD is. Tell them there is nothing wrong with them, and let them know, more often, you love them.

We believe that a little bit of love and compassion along with a regular dose of ADHD medications and behavior therapy can make life better for teens with ADHD.

Have any tips for managing ADHD in teenagers? Please post your ideas in our comments section.

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