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ADHD in Adolescents

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

ADHD is a condition that affects behavior. You may have a hard time sitting still or paying attention. You may feel like you have a short attention span. ADHD can cause problems with your daily activities at work, school, or home. You may also have problems getting along with other people. As you get older, you will be able to manage your own health. You may be away from home more often spending time with your friends or being involved in sports. Adults, such as your parents and healthcare providers, can help as you become more active in your own care.

What are the signs and symptoms of ADHD?

ADHD has 2 main types, inattention and hyperactivity (including being impulsive). Each type has 9 possible symptoms. You may have more symptoms of one type, or a combination of the 2 types. A combination is most common. You may do any of the following:

  • Inattention:
    • Not pay attention to details
    • Not keep your focus
    • Seem like you are not listening when spoken to
    • Not finish tasks or follow instructions, such as not finishing homework
    • Have trouble getting or staying organized
    • Avoid or not like activities that need full attention
    • Lose items
    • Get easily distracted
    • Forget things
  • Hyperactivity and impulsivity:
    • Fidget or squirm
    • Have trouble sitting still and often leave your chair when sitting is required
    • Run or climb all the time
    • Have trouble sitting quietly
    • Always seem to be on the go or driven by a motor
    • Talk more than others your age
    • Start to give answers even before the question has been asked fully
    • Have trouble waiting and taking turns
    • Interrupt others who are talking

How is ADHD diagnosed?

Healthcare providers use a guide to diagnose ADHD. The guide contains signs and symptoms of ADHD from the 2 types. You, your teachers, or your parents may be given a rating scale that contains all 18 symptoms. The scale has a place to mark if you or others have noticed each symptom in you. It can also be used to record how much each symptom stops you from doing your daily activities. You must have at least 5 out of 9 symptoms. The symptoms must be present for at least 6 months and not be caused by other problems. These symptoms must be severe enough to cause problems in 2 or more places, such as home, work, or school. Some symptoms must be present since you were a child.

How is ADHD treated?

The goal of treatment is to help you learn how to control your behavior. A combination of therapy and medication is usually most effective for treating ADHD. You may need any of the following:

  • Behavior therapy is used to help you learn to control your actions and improve your behavior. This is done by teaching you how to change your behavior by looking at the results of your actions.
  • Psychotherapy is also called talk therapy. You may have one-on-one visits with a therapist or with others in a group setting.
  • Medicines to help you pay attention or to decrease or prevent symptoms of depression and anxiety may be given.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to manage ADHD?

  • Be patient with yourself, and ask others to be patient. ADHD can be frustrating, especially if you forget to do something important or have trouble focusing during a conversation. Try not to focus on a problem, such as something you forgot to do. Create a reminder so you will not forget again. Focus on what you are good at doing. For example, you may have strong math skills or do well in sports. You can help others be more patient by asking them to let you focus on 1 task at a time. A person speaking with you may need to face you and make eye contact before speaking.
  • Use reminders for tasks you need to complete. Set an alarm to remind you when you need to do something. Make a checklist of items you need to pack and take with you the next day to school or work. You may also need to set an alarm to remind you to take ADHD medicine. Break tasks into small steps instead of trying to complete everything at the same time.
  • Remove distractions. Distractions such as music, conversations, and TV can keep you from concentrating. Activities such as driving a car or doing homework need your full attention. You can remove distractions while you drive by not listening to the radio and not having conversations with passengers. Find a quiet place to do your homework. Do not have the TV or radio on while you do your homework.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods can increase your concentration and help you feel calmer. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, whole-grain breads, and cooked beans. Limit foods that are high in sugar, such as candy. Limit the amount of caffeine you have each day. Sugar and caffeine may make ADHD symptoms worse.
  • Try to go to bed at the same time every night. Sleep can help decrease the symptoms of ADHD. Set a regular time to go to bed every night and a time to get up each morning. Do not watch TV, use the computer, or play video games for at least 1 hour before bedtime. Electronic devices can make it hard for you to fall asleep or stay asleep.
  • Reduce stress. Stress may make your ADHD worse. Ask about ways to calm your body and mind. These may include deep breathing, muscle relaxation, music, and biofeedback. Talk to someone about things that upset you.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You feel like hurting yourself or someone else.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You feel you cannot cope at home, work, or school.
  • You have new symptoms since the last time you visited your healthcare provider.
  • Your symptoms are getting worse.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.