Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Teens

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

How do health-care professionals diagnose ADHD in teens? Are there ADHD tests?

Primary to establishing a diagnosis of ADHD is the demonstration of symptoms detailed in the criteria of the DSM-V. Collecting information from both parents and teachers is crucial. Various rating scales (for example, Connors Scales) are objective and efficient to complete. Part of the evaluation for an individual for potential ADHD involves a thorough search for other associated (but not causative) disorders including (but not limited to) learning disorders, mood disorders, and more. By definition, it is crucial to exclude other causes of the ADHD symptom complex. This umbrella may include: 1) adverse effects of medication, 2) mental deficiency, and 3) psychiatric disorders (for example, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, posttraumatic stress disorder).

What are the symptoms of ADHD in teens?

Several of the behaviors displayed in childhood ADHD carry through to the teen and even adult years. The manifestations may be more subtle and/or "hidden" due to the more mature coping mechanisms as well as the need to adapt to the expected behavior society demands with more advanced age. Studies have noted the following list of potential symptoms for adolescent ADHD patients:

  1. Lack of focus: easy distractibility, overlooking details, not completing projects/assignments
  2. "Hyperfocus": intense focus that excludes similarly timed tasks or other individuals to the detriment of the ADHD sufferer
  3. Disorganization: procrastination, lateness, and difficult prioritizing
  4. Forgetfulness: may be misinterpreted as carelessness or lack of investment
  5. Impulsivity: interrupts conversations, performs socially inappropriate behaviors, and ignores consequences of acts
  6. Emotionalism: irritability and/or broad mood swings
  7. Poor self-image: may be hypercritical and hold self to unreasonably high standards
  8. Lack of motivation: coupled with procrastination and poor organizational skills leads to major problems at home, work, and school
  9. Physical restlessness: taps toes, plays with pens/pencils, clears throat recurrently, and becomes bored easily

Besides the obvious and expected academic and social problems these behaviors may engender, there is other "fallout" which may have even more severe consequences. These include the following:

  1. Risk for car accidents: The combination of self-ordained teenage invincibility coupled with trouble focusing, impatience, excessive impulsivity, risk taking, and thrill-seeking behaviors underscore why ADHD teens are two to four more times likely to have an automobile accident than their non-ADHD affected peers.
  2. Alcohol consumption: Teens with ADHD are more likely to engage in drinking as well as drinking excessively. Several studies have documented that such teens are twice as likely to have drunk to excess (passed out) in the last six months as non-ADHD affected adolescents.
  3. Illicit drugs: Teens with ADHD are more likely to abuse other than marijuana than teens not experiencing ADHD.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/22/2015
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