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ADHD and the teenage brain

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, 4 min read

ADHD and the teenage brain

What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common condition. Your teen may have been diagnosed as a child when they had trouble paying attention or sitting still in school. ADHD can continue into the teen years and adulthood.

How is ADHD different for teenagers?

Teens may not display the hyperactivity symptoms associated with ADHD in children, but they may struggle with inattention and disorganisation.1 As school and activities become more demanding, teens may have a hard time keeping up. Teenagers are expected to function more independently with less support from teachers and parents. As they get older, the consequences of their decisions carry more weight. Maintaining friendships, managing emotions, driving, working and completing school assignments can become more difficult.

What are the symptoms of ADHD in teens?

ADHD symptoms may be more subtle in teens than in children and include:

· Difficulty paying attention

· Restlessness or fidgeting

· Impulsive actions and risky behaviours

· Challenges getting organised or finishing tasks

· Problems with peer relationships

How is ADHD different in girls than in boys?

Girls are more likely to have symptoms of inattentiveness only and are less likely to show disruptive behaviours. Girls with ADHD may be less likely to be diagnosed.2

What’s the difference between ADD and ADHD?

In the past, ADHD was called attention deficit disorder (ADD). The current name reflects our expanded understanding of the condition after decades of research.

What are the causes of ADHD?

ADHD tends to run in families. Despite popular theories, foods with sugar and food additives have not been shown to cause ADHD.3 Researchers are studying how brain injuries, nutrition and social environments may play a role in ADHD.4

How is ADHD diagnosed?

Parents or teachers may notice symptoms first. If you have concerns, make an appointment with your paediatrician. Your paediatrician will ask about your teen’s social, emotional, educational and behavioural history. They may refer your teen to a mental health professional for further evaluation.

What treatments are available?

There is no cure for ADHD, but treatment can help control the symptoms. Treatment may include medications and behaviour therapy. Behaviour therapy may include skills for problem-solving, communication and self-advocacy.

Medicines may include stimulants like amphetamine (Adderall) or methylphenidate (Concerta or Ritalin). Non-stimulant medicines may be prescribed alone or in combination with stimulant medicines. Examples of non-stimulant medicines are atomoxetine (Strattera), clonidine (Kapvay) or guanfacine (Intuniv).

How can I help my teen?

Make sure your teen has accommodations in school if needed.1 Create a designated study spot at home and help them stay organised. You may need to stay informed about their assignments and check in from time to time. Anticipate high-stress situations like final exams and talk with your teen about ways to manage these challenges.

If relationships are an issue, encourage your teen to speak with you or another trusted adult.1 Encourage extracurricular activities. For serious issues, a therapist can offer guidance on social skills.

Emotional impulsivity can make it difficult for teens with ADHD to cope with frustration. Help your teen learn cool-down strategies like walking away or taking a deep breath.

Teens with ADHD can engage in more risky behaviours like using alcohol and illicit drugs and unsafe sex.1 As a parent, you can minimise unsupervised free time and set clear expectations. Allow your teen to help plan rules and consequences. Encourage them to come to you with questions or to call or text you if they need a ride home.

Driving may pose extra challenges for teens with ADHD. Provide extra instruction in safe driving. You may need to wait until their skill and judgement are mature enough.1

If you have concerns, make an appointment today.

Your paediatrician can help diagnose ADHD and refer you to resources that can help. To book a Babylon Video Appointment 24/7, download the Babylon Health app. If your teen is in immediate distress or thinking about hurting themselves, seek emergency medical care.

1. Mary Rooney, PhD. Child Mind Institute. “ADHD in Teenagers.” Accessed July 13, 2022.

2. NHS. “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).” Accessed July 13, 2022.

3. National Institute of Mental Health (2008). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (NIH Publication No. 08-3572). Available online:

4. National Institute of Mental Health. “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Teens: What You Need to Know.” Revised 2021.

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The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.

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