ADHD in Teenagers: Symptoms, Treatment, and Outlook

ADHD in Teenagers: Symptoms, Treatment, and Outlook

If you are a teenager struggling with hyperactivity, mood difficulties, behavioral issues, or sleep problems, you may have ADHD. (This is not a diagnosis, please see a doctor if you are interested in a diagnosis of any medical condition.)

ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is a disorder of the brain. According to the CDC, over 3.3 million people between 12 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, and the average age of diagnosis is seven years old. This article will dive into the symptoms, treatment, and outlook for teens with ADHD.

What is ADHD?

ADHD can make it difficult for people to:

  • Control their impulses,
  • Prioritize activities in their life,
  • Stay focused and pay attention for a long time,
  • Organize themselves and their surroundings,
  • Follow through with deadlines,
  • Remain still and quiet for long periods.

The primary difficulty for people with ADHD is an inability to control their impulses. Teens with ADHD are also more likely to have other mental health issues like anxiety, depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Although, not everyone with ADHD has these other conditions.

What Causes ADHD?

Nobody knows exactly what causes ADHD, but there may be a genetic connection. For example, If you have a sibling with any mental health condition, you are about twice as likely to have ADHD. Other common risk actors for ADHD include:

  • Being born prematurely or with low birth weight,
  • Experiencing a brain injury early in life,
  • Having a mother who drank alcohol or smoked while they were pregnant,
  • Having a mother that had exposure to environmental chemicals or toxins during pregnancy,
  • Experiencing early-childhood trauma. (The research on this is not definitive.)

Common Symptoms of ADHD

For many people, ADHD symptoms improve as teenagers, although some may worsen due to environmental and hormonal changes. Research says that about 60 percent of children with ADHD continue to have symptoms as teenagers and adults. I will share a list of common symptoms that people with ADHD can experience.

Mood and Relationship Difficulties

ADHD may make normal mood fluctuations more intense.

Research shows that, for some teens who have ADHD, emotions can trigger substance use. Stress, poor sleep habits, mood disorders, and substance use can make it challenging to pinpoint what is causing changes to mood and self-esteem.

If you are a teen with ADHD, you likely will have intensified and increased social conflicts. While social problems with friends, family, and dating relationships are common for people of any age, having ADHD can intensify the problem.

Sleep Issues

As a teenager, many physical and mental changes can affect and interfere with sleep. Hormones can affect your circadian rhythm and change your sleep patterns. As a teenager, your brain is still maturing. It may be difficult to sleep because many brain structures are not yet fully developed. Being a teenager is stressful! School, family, and social problems can worsen stress. Stress can interfere with your sleep significantly. If you have ever been unable to sleep the night before a big event, you have experienced this firsthand. Check out this article I wrote on strategies to get quality sleep.

Sleep problems are common for teens, but having ADHD can make these problems much more severe. Some medications used to treat ADHD are stimulants, which can keep people awake at night and disrupt the quality of their sleep.

Hyperactivity and Impulsivity

One of the most common symptoms of ADHD is having high energy levels and being unable to sit still. However, many people with the condition experience tiredness and fatigue instead.

Research shows that teenagers with ADHD are more likely to get into a car accident. Other research also shows that drug and alcohol abuse risk increases for teens with ADHD.

Problems at School

Especially in high school, many teens struggle at school because of the increased number of assignments and homework. Some of these problems can include:

  • Having difficulty managing time with long-term school projects,
  • Trouble organizing lockers, desks, and backpacks,
  • Social issues when collaborating with classmates on assignments and projects.

How Can ADHD be Treated?

In many cases, ADHD can be treated with the following approaches:

Diet and Lifestyle Changes

Many diet and lifestyle changes can help with, but not eliminate, ADHD symptoms for many people. Some of these changes include:

  • Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber,
  • Getting adequate vitamin and omega-3 intake,
  • Replacing sugary beverages with water,
  • Aiming for one hour of moderate exercise daily,
  • Limiting social media usage,
  • Getting enough quality sleep. (Check out this article on strategies to achieve quality sleep.)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) identifies poor thinking patterns and replaces them with healthier versions. CBT is highly effective in helping manage many conditions, including ADHD.

Physical Exercise

Exercise is not just healthy for your body. It can also help keep the brain in better shape. Physical activity is associated with improved cognitive function and improved ADHD symptoms.

During and for a short time after exercise, your brain releases chemicals like dopamine, which help with attention and clear thinking. The stimulant medicines often used to treat ADHD increase dopamine in the brain, so it makes sense that exercise can have many of the same effects as powerful and effective medications.


Stimulant medication combined with cognitive behavioral therapy is the most common treatment approach to treating ADHD. Some medications commonly used include Amphetamine (Adderall), Dextroamphetamine, and Methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta).

The Bright Side

Although having ADHD comes with plenty of challenges, it can also open up many opportunities. Many people experience severe ADHD symptoms. If this applies to you, your teachers and administrators will be more aware of your behavior in class. This enables you to receive a diagnosis and treatment faster than you otherwise could.

A benefit for many people with ADHD is the ability to “hyper-focus” on activities. Many people that experience this say that they have been so focused at times that they often have trouble remembering to take care of themselves. As a teen matures, they may also be able to talk about their symptoms better, helping parents, doctors, and teachers to treat them.

What’s The Outlook for a Teen With ADHD?

Early intervention is vital for lasting improvement in symptoms for people with ADHD. Research has shown that when ADHD is left untreated later in life, people’s chances for substance abuse, poor financial status, and deteriorating mental health increase.

Many people with ADHD as kids have at least one symptom that continues into their teenage and adult life. Fortunately, ADHD is a manageable condition.


There are many challenges for teens with ADHD, but if you have the proper support, you can make it through life happily as a teen and an adult. As you get older and mature, it is vital to keep the symptoms and treatments of ADHD in mind, ensuring you stay healthy and live the life you truly want.