Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Teens: What You Need to Know

Overall, teens with ADHD tend to display fewer of the hyperactivity symptoms we associate with ADHD in children. That’s the good news.

By the age of 20, about 75 percent of American teens have had sexual intercourse. That number is likely higher for teens with ADHD; numerous studies have linked ADHD to a higher rate of teen pregnancy, promiscuity, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

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.

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The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator , an online tool for finding mental health services and treatment programs in your state. For additional resources, visit NIMH’s Help For Mental Illnesses webpage or see NIMH Children and Mental Health fact sheet.

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1 Rubia, K (2007). Neuro-anatomic evidence for the maturational delay hypothesis of ADHD. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Dec 2007, 104 (50) 19663-19664; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0710329105

With its mood swings and hormonal changes, adolescence also brings new and unnerving ADHD symptoms in teens — challenges that require patience, understanding, and pinpointed strategies. Here, learn how changing biology impacts executive functions, emotions, and decision-making skills, and how you can protect your teen against the greatest risks to their health.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Teens: What You Need to Know

Symptoms of ADHD in Teens

How you can help: It’s very important to take extra care in teaching teenagers with ADHD to drive. In some cases it may be wise to consider delaying the age when your teen beings driving, and to limit how and when they can drive (and who can be in the car with them) until you are confident that their skill and judgment are sufficiently mature. If your child takes medication for ADHD, it may be important to make sure they are taking medication when they’re behind the wheel. You should make sure they’re aware of the difficulties associated with driving and ADHD, and recognizes the importance of monitoring their own behavior to make sure they’re a safe driver.

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The teenage years tend to be an emotional rollercoaster for all kids, but those with ADHD are prone to poor emotion-regulation, which may result in greater highs and lows. Their emotional impulsivity can make it especially difficult for them to cope with frustration. It can be tough on them, and those around them.

Discuss driving privileges with your teen in relation to their overall ADHD treatment plan. It’s your responsibility to establish rules and expectations for safe driving behaviors. Be sure to include a discussion about the risks of texting and talking on the phone while driving.

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Instead, experts recommend that parents do the following:

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

Success begins with realistic goals. Even with school support and a great IEP, tutoring help, behavior therapy, and the right medication at the right dose, most teens will struggle at times. Unrealistic expectations are a shortcut to failure.

Kids with ADHD can be targets for bullying, too. Be prepared. Talk with your child about what to do if they get teased or picked on. Make sure they know it’s OK to tell you if they are bullied.

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Developmentally, teenagers are expected to be able to handle more autonomy: less structure in their school and home lives and less teacher and parental oversight.

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Because girls with ADHD may appear less symptomatic and internalize their problems, they often suffer silently. In the early teen years, girls with ADHD have more academic problems, more aggressive behavior, higher rates of depression, and earlier signs of substance-related problems than do their neurotypical peers. Some studies suggest that girls with ADHD may be at greater risk for self-harm, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, and unplanned pregnancy than are girls without the disorder. These findings hold true even after adjusting for factors such as stimulant medication use, IQ, and age at diagnosis. 11

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), methylphenidate (Concerta, Quillivant XR, Ritalin), and mixed salts of a single-entity amphetamine product (Mydayis).

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