Signs of ADHD in Teen Girls

ADHD is one of the most diagnosed mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders in adolescents. Yet it is often poorly understood. Certain symptoms are sometimes mischaracterized or overvalued as signs of ADHD, while others go unnoticed. Furthermore, the risks of untreated ADHD are not emphasized often enough, especially as teens get older.

Left untreated, ADHD can have several devastating knock-on effects, including difficulties academically and professionally, relationship problems, unsafe sexual activity, and a severely increased risk of substance abuse.

For many teenage girls, ADHD symptoms become less apparent with age – but that does not always mean that teens grow out of it. Instead, they may begin to develop their own coping mechanisms, some of which are positive, and some of which aren’t. Recognizing the signs of ADHD in teen girls can help friends and family members intervene as early as possible, begin ADHD treatment, and reduce the negative impact that ADHD may have on a teenager’s life.

Seeing the Signs of ADHD in Teen Girls

In children and teens, ADHD rates skew heavily towards boys. However, research shows us that adult ADHD rates are quite even across the board, with a 1-to-1 ratio of male to female diagnoses. This can be explained by the theory that girls are underdiagnosed, because their symptoms often appear somewhat different to those of boys, and may be misdiagnosed as anxiety, depression, or a learning disability.
At its core, ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity and inattentiveness. However, of these two major symptoms, it’s the hyperactivity that is most often recognized and called out by parents and educators. Girls with ADHD become more apparent as potential candidates for diagnosis later in their teen years, if they struggle in high school or college settings.

An early diagnosis can be incredibly helpful. Girls and boys alike do much better at school and in other parts of life with an individualized treatment plan, if their ADHD is identified early on. As time passes, it can be more difficult to identify cases of ADHD, as young adults become better at masking their symptoms, or developing compensatory behaviors. However, this leaves them vulnerable to adjunct or co-occurring disorders and life problems, including self-esteem issues, anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder.

Signs of ADHD vs Diagnostic Criteria

If you’re worried that your teen might be struggling with ADHD, it’s important not to jump to conclusions. The signs of ADHD can range from struggling to keep up with peers at school to frequently not listening when being talked to. But signs and red flags are not enough for a thorough and accurate diagnosis. They are, however, enough to consider talking to a doctor about scheduling an appointment for screening.
ADHD is diagnosed as per the DSM-V. Among other requirements, teens and children who may have ADHD must:

  • Have had their symptoms since before they were 12 years old.
  • Must have consistently struggled with their symptoms for at least six months.
  • Struggle to keep up with their responsibilities and function on a daily basis as a result of their symptoms.
  • Experience their symptoms in two or more settings, i.e., not just at school, but at home as well.
  • Have at least five symptoms of impulsivity, inattention, and/or hyperactivity if they’re older than 17.

Addressing and Treating ADHD in Teen Girls

Roughly 70 percent of children and teens with ADHD respond to stimulant medication plans. In teens with ADHD, these substances can be a positive life-changer. But medication on its own is not always going to work. There are behavioral therapy programs and recommended lifestyle changes for teens with ADHD, as well as resources for friends and parents to create a better support system for their loved ones.

FAQs About ADHD in Teen Girls

ADHD can be a contentious topic among parents and educators alike. Some of the questions we receive about ADHD in teens include:

Are there ADHD signs that go unnoticed?

There are signs of ADHD that often go unnoticed until later years – such as poor executive functioning, inattentiveness, and difficulty listening to others. These symptoms can be masked through certain self-developed coping skills, or be misinterpreted as learning difficulties, other neurodevelopmental issues, or just a lack of interest in school.

Can hormonal development worsen ADHD symptoms in girls?

In most cases, the opposite is true – in most cases, it seems that symptoms of ADHD improve with time, especially after puberty. However, that doesn’t mean that ignoring a diagnosis of ADHD is in any way a good idea. Teens with untreated ADHD are at much greater risk for anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and even substance abuse.

Can girls with ADHD excel in certain areas, or have unique strengths?

ADHD is not an indictment of a child’s intelligence or resourcefulness. While children and teens diagnosed with ADHD may struggle more than their peers in school settings, it does not change their individual talents or strengths. A teen girl can be diagnosed with ADHD, and still become a valedictorian, or a brilliant artist, or anything else. And with proper support and treatment, they’re even more capable of living out their potential.

How is ADHD different in girls compared to boys?

Crucially, girls with ADHD are more reserved, more inattentive, less likely to lash out or be impulsive, and more likely to develop their own compensatory behavior to mask their symptoms. For example, where boys tend to be more disruptive, girls with ADHD tend to have trouble listening, and struggle with executive functioning (managing their time, keeping track of tasks, remembering their responsibilities).

If you have more questions about recognizing and coping with signs of ADHD in teen girls, or if you want to learn more about treatments for teens with ADHD or a co-occurring disorder, contact us at Visions Teen Treatments.


ADHD in teen girls is more common than some parents might suspect, even if it isn’t as apparent. Understanding the signs and symptoms, especially those that aren’t always associated with ADHD, or may be associated with other conditions, can help parents and educators better screen teen girls for signs of ADHD, and get them the help and treatment they need. For more information on ADHD treatment for teen girls, contact us at Visions Teen Treatments.



ADHD Mental Health

Common Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Teens and Children

Neurodevelopmental disorders are a class of mental and physical health conditions characterized by delayed or unmet developmental milestones and changes in the way a child’s brain develops in comparison to their peers. And while there are many conditions that fall under this umbrella, there are some common neurodevelopmental disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), that are more recognizable.

When Can a Neurodevelopmental Disorder Impact a Teen?

Neurodevelopmental disorders can impact a child, teen, and adult in different ways over the years, depending on the type of condition they have and the severity of their symptoms.

Most neurodevelopmental disorders begin to affect a person early in their life, and some neurodevelopmental conditions can be diagnosed as early as a few years into a child’s development, depending on certain key signs and symptoms. Neurodevelopmental disorders are recognized under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), a diagnostics manual for mental disorders.

Other Mental Health Disorders vs. Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Neurodevelopmental disorders are somewhat unique in that they often blend the difference between a mental health issue and a physical health issue. In many instances, a neurodevelopmental disorder is a bit of both.

Many neurodevelopmental disorders begin in the womb or in the earliest childhood and are caused by inherent risk factors (such as genes) as well as environmental risks, from chemical exposure to severe stress.

Originating from Brain Development

All neurodevelopmental disorders can be traced to the brain’s development, unlike some other mental disorders.

While many mental health conditions are affected by brain health, research has shown us that some conditions, like anxiety or depression, are not necessarily strictly linked to differences in brain structure or brain chemistry, even though these can be contributing factors in some cases. In other words, some people are depressed because of an inherent genetic risk and a difference in the way their brain processes mood. Others struggle with their mental health symptoms due to a wealth of other conflating factors, from trauma to chronic stress.

Are Neurodevelopmental Disorders Physical?

Neurodevelopmental disorders help us better understand the way mental and physical disorders are ultimately tied together.

Even if some mental disorders don’t have a clear physical origin, there are both mental and physical symptoms to a condition like anxiety or depression.

Panic attacks and depression-related chronic pains are definite physical symptoms caused by mental health issues. Many people who seek treatment for a mental disorder need a treatment plan that addresses a system of co-occurring health problems, rather than a limited window of symptoms.

In that context, neurodevelopmental disorders are both physical and mental and may require a treatment plan that tackles both types of symptoms.

Common Neurodevelopmental Disorders

There are a few different ways in which a child’s brain can lag behind their peers and cause health issues. Here are some of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders.

1. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism spectrum disorder is a diagnosis for a wide variety of symptoms. Any child diagnosed with autism will require a treatment plan tailored to their circumstances and symptoms.

Autism is characterized by difficulties with both verbal and non-verbal social cues, sensory overload, physical stimulation and fidgeting, and strange speech.

Specific symptoms and severity can differ wildly. Autism does not affect cognition or intelligence. In fact, some children and teens with autism have exceptionally good recollections and are hyper-focused on specific interests. There are no physical tests for autism, but a pediatrician and psychiatrist can diagnose autism in a child based on certain behavioral tests and developmental signs.

2. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is another common neurodevelopmental disorder, inhibiting executive functioning, motivation, attention, and mood control. ADHD often co-occurs with conditions like depression and anxiety, and symptoms differ in childhood versus adulthood.

Children with ADHD tend to fidget, struggle to pay attention, can be easily irritable, and may be inclined to follow their own interests exclusively. They may have normal or even above-average intelligence but cannot always direct their focus where it is needed. As adults, people with ADHD may learn to overcome many of their symptoms but may still struggle compared to peers with focus, motivation, and time management.

3. Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by difficulty with physical coordination. Kids who develop cerebral palsy will often have normal intelligence but can struggle with speech, in addition to other basic tasks such as walking, eating, and bladder control.

There are different types and levels of severity, with corresponding levels of required support. There are no ways to reverse cerebral palsy, but there are therapies and tools to mitigate its effects – from strength training to specialized walking tools – and help teens gain as much independence as possible.

4. Neurodevelopmental Motor Disorders

Neurodevelopmental motor disorders also affect a child’s movement, but in different ways than cerebral palsy. While cerebral palsy specifically refers to a condition caused by some type of damage to the brain during development, neurodevelopmental motor disorders are characterized by involuntary movements and speech, also known as tics. These can be verbal tics as well as physical tics. A commonly known neurodevelopmental motor disorder is Tourettes.

5. Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities range from dyslexia to dyscalculia and heavily affect a child’s capacity to understand and process information.

Children and teens with learning disabilities usually have the same level of intelligence as their peers but may be held back or struggle academically because they aren’t catered to and cannot learn the material at the same speed or in the same way as their friends. The most common learning disabilities center around reading, writing, and performing math.

6. Intellectual Disability

Intellectual disabilities may affect a child’s cognitive abilities, such as their ability to retain information, remember things, understand concepts, or solve problems.

Furthermore, intellectual disabilities differ in severity. Some children and teens are years behind their peers but can still develop to become independent in adulthood, especially with treatment. Others may require a legal guardian or conservatorship, even after they become adults, to make financial and medical decisions, as well as other key decisions.

Identifying and seeking treatment for an intellectual disability as early as possible can help a child develop, but their brain may be limited in its capacity to adapt. There are different causes of intellectual disabilities, including Down syndromefragile X syndrome, and viral infections.

Are Neurodevelopmental Disorders Treatable?

It is important to define treatable in the context of a neurodevelopmental disorder. Most of these conditions are lifelong, although they vary in severity to such a degree that a person can “outgrow” them.

In most cases, however, this simply means that a teen or adult learns to cope with the symptoms of their condition and appear neurotypical, even if they continue to be naturally disadvantaged in our neurotypical world when compared with their peers and have otherwise learned to compensate through behavioral and cognitive adaptation. Sometimes, this is due to treatment and training. Other times, it’s due to life experiences. Sadly, many other kids don’t cope as well and will continue to struggle with their disorder without the necessary help.

Some treatments can help children and teens become independent and lead long lives with normal levels of social and medical support. Other conditions may require lifelong support through friends and family. That does not make life any less worth living, even if it’s a different life than most people lead.

Children and teens with severe neurodevelopmental conditions can still learn to adapt to a significant degree and make progress over the years. They can see life through a lens most people never will and can even develop unique skills as a result of their circumstances.

Don’t Give Up

It’s important not to give up on someone with a neurodevelopmental condition. Their symptoms could improve, or they can learn to adapt to their circumstances in ways that weren’t anticipated. Kids have learned to do things with cerebral palsy that some doctors told them they would never do. And as time goes on, research into neurodevelopmental conditions continues to provide alternative treatments and potential future treatments to help older teens and adults adapt in new ways.

For more information about treatment for neurodevelopmental disorders in teens, visit Visions Treatment Centers.

ADHD Body Image Eating Disorders Mental Health Substance Abuse

4 Sneaky Mental Illnesses in Teens to Watch Out For

Mental illnesses in teens can be a complicated topic for parents, especially if they have no personal experience with mental disorders. Recognizing and separating symptoms of a mental disorder from regular teenage behavior can be difficult, because many mental health symptoms are subtle, and begin in ways that can be misconstrued as normal teenage behavior.

Nevertheless, recognizing and identifying these symptoms is important. Teens themselves may lack the awareness or the experience to identify their feelings as troublesome and might instead internalize their symptoms as being their own fault.

This guilt can feed and accelerate feelings of anxiety, depression, or other symptoms, and can make treatment more difficult over time. Pressure at home or at school, a history of victimization, or mental health stigma in the community can complicate things even further, making teens less likely to seek help or consider asking for it.

Mental Illnesses in Teens Have Gone Up

The rates at which mental illnesses in teens have also gone up over time. Some of it may stem from awareness, or from societal factors, such as environmental concerns, greater academic pressure, and a poor economic outlook. But by and large, teen stressors are the same as they have always been: relationship problems, grades, fitting in, family environment, and trauma.

Let’s look at a few common yet sneaky mental illnesses that may affect your teen and how to identify them.

1. Body Dysmorphia

Body dysmorphia is a growing issue with the prevalence of social media and doctored Instagram posts, even amid waves of body positivity and messages about self-acceptance.

Also dubbed body dysmorphic disorder, this mental health condition is characterized by an untrue self-image. It isn’t just that a teen with BDD does not like the way they look – in their eyes, they look completely different than what they might look like to others. A teen with BDD might starve themselves or work out excessively to try and conform to their ideal, unattainable self-image. Teens with body dysmorphia may also abuse substances to suppress their appetite or achieve a different figure, such as using anabolic steroids to build muscle quickly. Signs and symptoms of BDD include:

  • An excessive and extreme focus on physical appearance and repeated negative comments about their self-image.
  • Spending inordinate amounts of time checking and rechecking their appearance.
  • Hiding away from others or hiding their body with loose-fitting clothes and baggy clothing.
  • Not listening to affirmations from others, ignoring praise about their physical appearance/continuing to lament their appearance as ugly.

2. Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are often adjacent to body dysmorphia but are characterized primarily by an unhealthy relationship with food. Eating disorders are usually diagnosed as either binge eating disorderanorexiabulimiaavoidant restrictive food intake disorder, other specified eating disorders, or unspecified eating disorders.

Binge eating Disorder 

Binge eating disorder is characterized by a cycle of emotional lows and depressive symptoms culminating in an unhealthy binge eating session, leading to another cycle of low mood. Teens who are binge eating may hide their binges, keep food in their room, or store chocolate bars and snacks in their drawers.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder characterized by excessively restrictive calorie counting and starvation, including severe body image issues, such as seeing oneself as fat despite being dangerously underweight. Therefore, anorexia can be a life-threatening condition.

Bulima Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a cycle of self-starvation, binging, and purging behavior (through laxatives or self-induced vomiting). Frequent vomiting can also cause throat and dental damage, as well as create callouses on a teen’s index and middle finger knuckles.

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder is characterized by an unhealthily restrictive food intake. Teens with avoidant restrictive food intake are incredibly picky about what they eat, to the point that it causes dramatic weight loss and physical health problems. These problems are progressive, meaning the list of acceptable foods becomes smaller over time. Teens with avoidant restrictive food intake are not necessarily worried about body image, but may be worried about choking on their food, or react nauseously to normal foods for no discernable reason. Choosing to cut out certain foods for health or moral reasons (such as a keto diet or veganism) is not a disorder.

Other Specific or Unspecified Eating Disorders

Other specific or unspecified eating disorders may be applied as a label to teens with disordered eating habits that do not yet fit an established profile, fit into multiple disorders at once, or in cases where more information is needed to determine a teen’s condition.

Eating disorders need to be addressed professionally. They can be life-threatening and can cause lasting physical harm.

3. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is a well-known condition in children and teens, but it can present itself in subtle ways that often evade diagnosis for years. Teens learn to cope with their ADHD symptoms over time, continuing to mask them well into adulthood.

However, untreated ADHD can be a great risk to teens because it is often associated with a much higher risk of comorbid mental health problems, including depression and substance use disorder.

One of the primary symptoms of teen ADHD is recurring disorganization. Being disorganized or clumsy is not just a personality trait – if your teen is consistently bad with time management, constantly misplaces their belongings, dodges, or misses deadlines all the time, and is actively anxious about these things (i.e., they are worried, and trying, but their behavior does not change), they may be struggling with ADHD.

Executive functioning problems are another common sign of ADHD in teens. Executive functioning refers to the ability to utilize one’s working memory, flexibility, and self-control to go about their life, including making and coordinating schedules and plans, prioritizing tasks effectively, demonstrating emotional control, effective self-monitoring, focusing on a task at a time, and being flexible about schedule changes.

Teens with ADHD can still learn to develop and hone these skills, but they may have a harder time doing so than their peers. Executive functioning can also be impacted by other problems, such as depression, abuse, or trauma.

4. Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder is another term for addiction. Addiction in teens may occur as a result of comorbid conditions, such as an anxiety disorder, PTSD, or depression, or as a result of a combination of environmental factors (socioeconomics, trouble at home, parental disconnect) and inner factors (genetics, family history, addiction at home).

Signs of a substance use disorder in teens can vary. Drug paraphernalia is one common sign, from hidden bongs to a bottle of vodka under the bed. Consistently coming home too late, coming home drunk or high multiple times, and experiencing physical symptoms of recurring drug use – from bloodshot eyes to memory loss – are also important signs.

When To Get Help

Mental illnesses in teens are treatable, and regardless of what your teen is going through, the first step of that treatment is compassion. Help your teen understand that you are in their corner and want them to feel better. They need to internalize that your goal isn’t to punish them, but to help.

In some cases, it can be difficult to convince your teen that you’re on their side. Some conditions make it harder to help teens get help than others, including addiction, personality disorders, and conduct disorders. Working with a mental health professional beforehand can help you come up with the best way to intervene on your teen’s behalf and get them to see things your way.

For more information, contact Visions Treatment Centers today.


How to Study with ADHD: Strategies & Tips

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be a bane to many a teen’s academic ambitions, especially when lacking the tools and support in learning how to study with ADHD. Studies show that children and teens with ADHD have a harder time retaining informationreading, and studying as effectively as their peers.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for your teen to build good study habits, or that they’re always going to struggle with executive functioning. Treating a mental health disorder such as ADHD through family support, medication, and strong coping habits can help your teen set themselves up for success in spite of their diagnosis and utilize their strengths to navigate their school workload.

Let’s take a look at a few different ways to approach studying with ADHD, and how you can help your teen retain information more effectively.

1. Take Frequent Breaks

The first and simplest tip is to break up study sessions into multiple smaller incremental bursts of focus, rather than a single long session. Chances are that your teen has the capabilities to do their homework and work on their lesson plan. But doing everything all at once is not just overwhelming, but often impossible without interference through minor and major distractions.

Instead of an hour at a time, plan 15- to 20-minute burst sessions, with interspersed breaks of about five minutes each. Breaktime can be used to grab a snack, listen to some music, or get up and stretch their legs.

Breaking down the monotony of a single task by approaching it in smaller bursts is a simple yet effective way to make bigger endeavors less overwhelming.

2. Pick an Ideal Study Time

There are always going to be periods of the day where your teen has a much easier time retaining information and focusing on the task at hand, usually around the time they’re directed to take their medication. It is a good idea for your teen to plan their study sessions around their medication schedule.

If your teen has been diagnosed with ADHD severe enough to impact their day-to-day life, concentration, and executive functioning, chances are that they’ve also been prescribed medication.

ADHD medication can be a lifesaver when it comes to creating structure and order, but it does wear off later in the day, so consider helping your teen schedule their studying around the early afternoon or in the mornings on weekends.

3. Utilize White Noise

White noise can help reduce the amount of “interference” coming from your teen’s own thoughts while they study.

There’s a difference between white noise and music. While some genres of music can help teens with ADHD focus, a safer bet is something like a loud fan or a white noise track.

That being said, your teen might already have their own favorite focus or study playlist in mind. It’s a tenuous balance – some types of music can help improve a teen’s focus, while others can be easily distracting. Good choices usually involve medium tempo, simple repeating rhythms, and no vocals. Certain music platforms specialize in providing beats specifically for focus.

4. Find the Right Space

The right physical location is also important for forming good study behaviors. Habits matter, which means patterns matter. And since we’re dealing with ADHD, distractions need to be minimal.

Common qualifications for a good space include one your teen doesn’t spend any time on for any other reason (i.e., not the bed, living room, or even their computer), and something with no visual distractions (i.e., no home décor or windows in sight).

Sitting at the kitchen table facing a wall is a common suggestion. While boring, the idea is to keep your teen’s mind focused on the material at hand rather than their surroundings, and to ensure that they get used to getting into “study mode” whenever they sit down at their designated work station.

5. Use the Right Study Technique

There are different ways to learn and retain information. Not all of them work as well as others. And some work better with certain individuals than they do with others. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Rewriting can help. Put your teen to task by reading a chapter or lesson in a textbook, and then summarizing key information on a notepad or piece of paper. Challenge them to provide a bullet list of important facts to remember, as well as a short paragraph or two on the general contents of the lesson.

Rereading is common, but not as helpful as putting one’s knowledge to the test. Flashcards are a quick and easy way to test and retest your teen’s memory retention, and ability to retain key information from a lesson. Teens with ADHD generally have a harder time retaining information just through reading – it’s much easier for them to retain facts if they’re quizzing themselves instead of just going over the same lists and texts again and again.

6. Avoid Cramming

Last-minute cramming is a common problem with kids with ADHD and many other students as well. And it never really works well. While you can coast on good memory skills throughout high school if you cram before a test, it’s much harder to apply that technique while struggling with ADHD.

Dispersing study sessions throughout the week, revisiting a lesson at least twice (i.e., gaining familiarity with the information), and reviewing the information you’ve already learned the night before a test through a quiz or flashcards is a much better way of structuring a study plan.

7. Avoid Sleeping Aids

If your teen struggles with sleep, then they may be taking melatonin or other sleeping aids.

Work with your teen and their health professional to develop alternative sleeping methods to improve sleep and address restlessness, to reduce their reliance on sleeping aids through improved sleep hygiene, eating schedules, screentime before bed, and a healthy sleeping ritual.

Sleeping aids can interfere with the brain’s ability to retain information over time and cut into their study efforts.

8. If You Can’t Study, Get Moving

Physical exercise can help counteract some of the symptoms of ADHD and help improve both memory retention and study habits.

If your teen can’t focus on the task at hand, make sure they let you know they want to tap out so they can go do something physical instead. They might have an easier time focusing on their studies after a brisk walk, a short run, or a training session.

Good Study Habits, Better Focus

Dealing with ADHD is not exclusively a child or teen issue, and problems surrounding memory and executive functioning can persist into adulthood. But good study habits can help form the basis for better focus later in life, as well.

If your child has ADHD, reach out to us for help and to get an evaluation.

ADHD Substance Abuse

ADHD and Substance Abuse: What Parents Need to Know

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is diagnosed in about one in ten adolescents (and fewer young children), yet many cases go unnoticed for years and remain undiagnosed and untreated. It is those cases that are at the most risk of developing substance abuse issues later in life. In many cases, teens with ADHD who began using drugs were not looking to get high – instead, they sought drugs to combat the symptoms of an untreated disorder.

While the treatments for ADHD rely on controlled and addictive substances (amphetamine and methylphenidate), research also shows that teens with ADHD who are treated early and routinely take prescribed ADHD medication are much less likely to struggle with drug use later in life.

For reasons not yet completely understood, there is a strong link between ADHD and drug abuse, with potential factors including genetic proclivity, unrecognized ADHD symptoms, how they respond to self-medication, and the link between drug-seeking behavior and risk-taking novelty-seeking behavior linked to ADHD diagnoses. Either way, ADHD often co-occurs with addiction, and concurrent treatment through a holistic, multimodal approach is often necessary.

The Link Between ADHD and Substance Abuse

Adult alcoholics are five to ten times more likely to have undiagnosed ADHD than the general public. Among adults being treated for addiction, about a quarter have been diagnosed with ADHD. Among teens, some studies note that as many as 40 percent of teens with ADHD start drinking at an early age, versus 22 percent of teens without ADHD. Among young adults, the likelihood of using alcohol evened out – but those with ADHD were more likely to use alcohol excessively.

The two major factors researchers take into consideration are behavior and genetics. Both alcoholism and ADHD can be hereditary, and there is an increased rate of addiction in close relatives of people with an ADHD diagnosis. The impulsive, novelty-seeking behavior associated with ADHD may make some teens more likely to try or overindulge drugs than others. While ADHD medication itself is addictive in large doses, most cases of ADHD-related addiction are not because of the medication.

Instead, teens diagnosed and treated with ADHD meds early were less likely to struggle with drug use later. However, that does not mean these drugs are not dangerous for teens without ADHD symptoms. It seems amphetamines and methylphenidate work differently in the brains of teens with ADHD and those without. In other words, addiction to alcohol and other drugs is linked to ADHD, not to ADHD medication.

Recognizing ADHD in Teens

ADHD is a condition with multiple subtypes, and a correct diagnosis can only be achieved through mental healthcare professional. But knowing what to look for in yourself or a loved one can help you make the important decision of seeking a professional diagnosis. Common signs of ADHD in teens include:

    • Trouble finishing tasks.
    • Mood swings and emotionality.
    • Difficulties with executive functions.
    • Lack of focus, chronic distractibility.
    • Poor decision making, impulsiveness.
    • Hyperactivity, often presented through fidgeting movements.
    • May have one or more hobbies where they excel – everything else feels impossible to concentrate on.

ADHD is not just easily excitable, somewhat hyperactive, or scatterbrained. Children and teens with ADHD are often all over the place, cannot sit still, are easily consumed by boredom (even when everyone else is engaged), and are incredibly prone to risk-taking and dangerous, self-destructive behavior. Their executive dysfunction has often advanced to the point that it leads to chaos in their daily lives, including:

    • At school
    • At home
    • With friends
    • In relationships
    • And more

Teens with ADHD develop slower than their peers when it comes to time management and metacognition, and many undiagnosed cases of ADHD are unfairly labeled as lazy or just plain difficult.

Treating ADHD and Substance Abuse in Teens

Drug addiction with a concurrent mental health issue is often known as a dual diagnosis. Treating the dual diagnosis of ADHD and substance abuse requires a holistic approach because the two conditions are heavily entwined. There are neurological and psychological considerations during both heavy use and total withdrawal and their effect on the efficacy of a targeted treatment plan. Comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment often takes on the form of an inpatient or outpatient program with:

    • Multiple talk therapy methods to address and modify destructive thoughts and habits.
    • Skill-building to help identify and improve upon alternative coping mechanisms.
    • A consistent medication plan.
    • Group therapy to help patients become part of a larger support network and benefit from shared experiences.
    • The incorporation of friends and family as crucial elements in on-going, long-term treatment, long after the end of the initial treatment period.

ADHD is a condition that requires a combination of behavior-modifying therapy and medication. Teens with ADHD often cannot just learn to overcome their nature – they are inherently struggling with an atypical brain structure. Their addiction is often the result of numerous attempts to cope with these abnormalities and the problems they bring to the table during day-to-day activities. Addressing both concurrently means providing ample treatment for ADHD while arming the patient with the means to recognize, address, and avoid signs of recurring drug abuse.

Long-Term Treatment and Consistent Support

In some cases, the most important skill is knowing when to call for help and recognizing – and embracing – the importance of support networks when self-motivation is not enough. Coping with ADHD itself can be difficult – coping with addiction on top of that is even harder. The journey towards a fully functional and healthy life is a long one for many teens, and it cannot be walked alone.

The role of a friend or family member is not the same as that of a therapist or doctor, but it remains crucial, especially in the long-term. These conditions are not treated over the course of several weeks but instead require consistent effort over the years and a commitment towards alternative coping mechanisms and the lessons of therapy. It is also a loved one’s job to recognize when family support is not enough and when it is important to seek professional help once again.

ADHD Substance Abuse

Teen Amphetamine Abuse Risks and Ripple Effects

Drug addiction distinguishes itself from behavioral addiction by how addictive substances affect the brain, both in the short- and long-term. Among many recreational substances, amphetamines are some of the most dangerous and addictive, especially for teens and young adults. While certain rewarding behavior can engender repetition, even in the face of dire consequences, drugs are hazardous to most people because they neurologically change how the brain interprets them with every use.

Research shows that certain substances develop sensitivity in the brain, wherein receptors react more strongly to a drug the first few times. This dependence is deepened by other physical, neurological, and psychological symptoms of addiction, creating a vicious cycle. While amphetamine abuse is treatable, the prognosis for addiction largely depends on a long list of internal and external factors. For amphetamines, breaking the habit does not mean this sensitivity is reversible.

However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), research has shown that even the infrequent use of amphetamines can have serious, if not lifelong or life-threatening, consequences for teens – even after years of abstinence. Here’s what you need to know about the risks of early-onset use and the rippling effects of teen amphetamine abuse.

What Are Amphetamines?

Amphetamines are a type of synthetic stimulant drug with a long history of medical use, first as a nasal decongestant and aphrodisiac, and later as a prescription drug for:

    • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
    • Obesity
    • Narcolepsy
    • Off-label uses for both depression and pain
    • Performance-enhancing uses in both sports and combat duty

A controlled substance since 1970, amphetamines can be very addictive and are typically more dangerous for teens without ADHD or narcolepsy than teens because of the neurological mechanisms behind these illnesses. Ironically, while a dangerous drug when used recreationally, prescribed amphetamine reduces the risk of substance use disorder (SUD) for teens with ADHD.

When used recreationally, however, the drug has a myriad of short-term and long-term effects, as well as adverse effects on the heart and brain. Notable dangerous side effects of amphetamine use include an increased risk of hypertension and tachycardia, anxiety, and insomnia. The most commonly abused name-brand amphetamines include:

Ritalin, which is also an ADHD drug, contains methylphenidate instead of amphetamine. Methylphenidate is also a highly addictive stimulant drug. Amphetamine produced and sold illegally is sometimes also known as “speed,” “uppers,” or “bennies.” Methamphetamine (meth) is a different stimulant drug based on the chemical structure of amphetamine. While it does have a brand prescription name, it is very rarely prescribed and is mainly produced and sold illegally as a dangerous recreational drug. MDMA (Ecstasy) is also amphetamine derived.

Signs & Symptoms of Teen Amphetamine Abuse

Amphetamines can produce a remarkable boost in energy and sociability and may affect both physical and cognitive performance. The amphetamines themselves do not give you any energy. Instead, they interact with receptors in the brain, releasing a powerful mixture of neurotransmitters and hormones such as dopamine and epinephrine. This can boost confidence and self-esteem to the point of grandeur, but it comes with a steep physical and psychological price, especially in the long-term or with repeated use. Some signs of teen amphetamine abuse include:

    • Irritability
    • Rapid mood swings
    • Hallucinations (rare)
    • Restlessness and insomnia
    • Frequent gastric problems
    • Delusions or paranoid behavior
    • Sudden weight loss and change in appetite

Amphetamine can be swallowed, injected, smoked, or snorted. There are no drug paraphernalia specifically associated with amphetamine, but missing pills or an unprescribed medication bottle may be common indicators.

Even Occasional Substance Use Has Consequences for Teens

Drug use during adolescence can dangerously lead to a higher risk of teen substance abuse. Studies have shown that unnecessary or recreational amphetamine use early on in life can increase the drug’s sensitivity later in adulthood. This means teens who abuse drugs like Adderall or other sources of amphetamine for recreational or academic purposes and then quit are more sensitive to the drug when they are older and have a higher risk of developing an addiction if they reencounter it.

Part of the reason these drugs are dangerous to teens is because of how they imprint themselves on the brain and because of adolescent neurology. Teen brains are still in development long after the rest of the body has finished maturing. The human brain is generally still “growing” until about 25, which is why teens have a harder time with long-term planning and risk assessment. This makes them more vulnerable to repeated drug use despite warnings and adverse effects, and it makes them more likely to ignore others’ experiences or fail to recognize the risk.

This is because, as research has shown, teens are much more likely to rely on the reward-based portion of their forebrain than the underdeveloped amygdala-cortex, which focuses on assessing risk when making decisions and thinking. It also means that drug use experiences become enmeshed in the brain at an earlier age, causing a much higher likelihood of addiction than if a person had encountered the same drug years later, late into their twenties.

Long-Term Effects of Amphetamines

Some of the long-term effects of teen amphetamine abuse include (but is not limited to):

    • Psychosis
    • Convulsions
    • Severe anxiety
    • Heart palpitations
    • Erectile dysfunction
    • Increased risk of stroke
    • Changes in blood pressure
    • Hypertension or hypotension
    • Worsened respiratory issues (in people with pre-existing respiratory illnesses)

Adverse effects, neurotoxicity, and the risk of dependence are all varied from person to person, and both genetic and external factors play a role in this. Polydrug use or using amphetamine produced illegally can further complicate long-term effects, as these street-level products are often mixed with other drugs.

Tackling Teen Amphetamine Abuse

There is no pharmacological solution for treating the abuse of amphetamines. Still, psychotherapy-based treatments have proven effective in helping teens recover from amphetamine addiction through a long-term recovery plan, often with the help of friends and relatives in the form of a strong support system. Inpatient and outpatient treatment programs can offer different perspectives and an array of effective coping mechanisms to teens with a history of substance use disorder.

ADHD Adolescence Mental Health

Does Your Child Have ADHD?

ADHD is a common disorder that mental health professionals encounter. It has become a go-to diagnosis for physicians, whose first line of treatment is typically Adderal or Ritalin. However, ADHD diagnoses are often determined using elementary questionnaires, the answers to which are relative and rely on a patient’s (i.e., parent’s) willingness to be transparent rather than psychological clarification.


It’s important to recognize that there are many psychological issues that have similar traits to ADHD.  Often times, someone will present with ADHD traits when their actual diagnosis is depression, anxiety, or PTSD.  Using drugs like Adderal or Ritalin isn’t always a wise course of action. These drugs are both stimulants and highly addictive. While these drugs will certainly increase focus and attention, they will also mask the relevant and underlying issues that may be present. Additionally, they have severe side effects: paranoia, irregular heartbeat, and an increase in blood pressure, tremors, restlessness, hallucinations, and muscle twitches.


Finding a skilled mental-health professional will shift the course of your teen’s treatment; a qualified clinician can skillfully diagnose disorders that are similar in symptoms but which may require different treatment.  Diagnosing ADHD requires investigation into several areas. Doctors look at the following to determine if there is an issue of hyperactivity and impulsivity. This is often the more obvious form of ADHD and more easily recognizable because of the negative social constructs that occur. Note, a child or teen has to experience 6 or more of these symptoms for a minimum of 6 months to qualify for this diagnosis. ADHD is diagnosed by looking at the following issues (following info via PsychCentral):



  • Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
  • Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework)
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools)
  • Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities–even those the person performs regularly (e.g., a routine appointment)



  • Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
  • Often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected
  • Often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate (in adolescents or adults, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness)
  • Often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
  • Is often “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”
  • Often talks excessively



  • Often blurts out answers before questions have been completed
  • Often has difficulty awaiting turn
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)


Note, the DSM-5 lists three subcategories for ADHD, which are:

  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation — Symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity but not symptoms of inattention have been shown for at least 6 months.
  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation — Symptoms of inattention but not symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been shown for at least 6 months.
  • Combined Presentation — Symptoms of both hyperactive-impulsivity and inattentiveness have been shown for at least 6 months.


Regardless of where your child lands in the ADHD field, it’s important to have the appropriate clinical support, the willingness to accept the diagnosis, and the courage to do the work to support and care for your child. Creating schedules that your child can adhere to, having a therapist that your child relates to, and building an infrastructure of support can make managing ADHD and other similarly related issues easier for families. While it’s no walk in the park, it’s better to know than not know. It’s better to ask for help than to watch your child needlessly suffer.

Addiction ADHD Adolescence Mental Health

ADHD Meds: Not Relief for Teen Stress!

Brain stress structures (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The pressure on our kids starts early. I’m talking pre-school early. For many parents, their child’s pre-school becomes a status symbol. The kids, on the other hand, could care less. They just want blocks and naptime, really. What they don’t need is pressure. But as our little ones advance in age, they are introduced to the latest standards and school becomes less of a place to become intellectually enriched, and more of a place to try and attain the highest test score. Sure, great test scores are a wonderful achievement, but they are not everything. Unfortunately, the pressure to do well and to be the best puts a great deal of pressure on our kids, and honestly, most pre-teens and teens couldn’t tell you in earnest what they want to be when they grow up, let alone what college they plan on attending. For most kids, adolescence is similar to the hormonal version of Survivor: full of surprises and unexpected whirlwinds of emotional adventure (with some added fear-based scenarios tossed in for good measure.).

By the time they reach middle- and high-school age, pressure from parents and school administrators can really gnaw at the edge of adolescence. The pressure increases and kids start to fall apart in various ways: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, drug use, and other forms of teen stress.  An example of this are the kids who push themselves so hard, they use stimulants like Adderal or Ritalin (typically prescribed for ADHD) just to make it through their end-of-the-year finals. This is troubling. Those who truly suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder benefit from these drugs and need them in order to balance out their brain chemistry. But when someone without this disorder takes these drugs, they experience a classic amphetamine high. Their brains don’t need chemical balancing. Adolescence is prime time for brain development; the last thing it needs is to play the part of a petri dish just to do well on a test.

I wish we could eliminate this pressure and the inevitable teen stress, but realistically, we can’t. What we can do as parents, teachers, therapists, and mentors is encourage a sense of propriety in our kids. We can teach them early on to ways in which to manage their stress, and perhaps even avoid some of it altogether. When my son was a toddler, having tantrums and doing toddler things, I started teaching him breathing techniques to help him self-soothe. I often think going back to those basic self-soothing skills we learn when we’re young is beneficial for managing life as we get older. If you didn’t learn to self-soothe as a tot, you can pick up the pieces now. Learning to be gentle with ourselves when we’re under stress is an invaluable tool. Teens, in particular, need to find ways to manage stress without sinking into the negative patterns so common in adolescence. So, what can they do?

  • Breathe. Stop and take 10 deep breaths.
  • Take a break. 10 minutes of solace won’t destroy your chances for a good grade. If anything, it will allow your brain to recharge.
  • Eat something. Fruits, veggies and high-protein snacks keep your brain fueled. No fuel=foggy thinking.
  • Ask for help. You don’t have to do this alone.
  • Read something light and entertaining. In other words, take a break from the intensity of academics.

I think you get the idea. If we stop and take care of ourselves, we are less likely to take the risks of using someone else’s prescription to pass a test or to study. Sacrificing mental health and safety for good grades is self-sabotaging behavior. It’s not worth it.

ADHD Mental Health Recovery

ADHD: More Than Statistics

Image via Wikipedia

There’s no doubt there’s an ADHD epidemic. It’s the diagnosis most often handed out when a child is struggling in school with fidgets, a short attention span, hyperactivity, et al.  Typically prompted by a complaint from a frustrated teacher, parents are lead to take the first step toward finding a behavioral solution.  A visit to the pediatrician will include having parents and teacher separately fill out a questionnaire. The questions tend to be specific and general–all at the same time.  On occasion, the answers fall in line with one another, but sometimes, they do not. In fact, at times, a child will present one way at school and another at home. For example, where the parents’ answers may not indicate the inability to focus, fidgeting or any other emotional anomalies common with ADHD, the teacher’s findings may say otherwise. Theirs may indicate negative, disruptive behaviors present, which are impacting the classroom dynamic. Because ADHD is a real illness and one that debilitates those who have it and creates challenges for those directly effected by it, there needs to be care and diligence when diagnosing it. Is the teacher overreacting? Are the parents not being entirely honest with themselves? Is it a little of both? It takes a skilled mental health practitioner and patience to sort that out.

Keep in mind, some behavioral challenges may be as simple as a child not being mature enough to “handle” the expectations thrust upon them by a numbers-driven educational system or by the institution of school itself.  Or it may be the prevalent learning style isn’t compatible with your child—some kids are tactile learners, others are visual, and others can memorize with ease. Learning isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience.

Regardless, ADHD continues to be a widespread diagnostic phenomenon. According to the CDC, “The American Psychiatric Association states in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) that 3%-7% of school-aged children have ADHD.  However, studies have estimated higher rates in community samples.”  This statistic is just for the United States alone.

Recent data from parents, which was also gathered by the CDC shows:

  • Rates of ADHD diagnosis increased an average of 3% per year from 1997 to 2006 and an average of 5.5% per year from 2003 to 2007.
  • Boys (13.2%) were more likely than girls (5.6%) to have ever been diagnosed with ADHD.
  • As of 2007, parents of 2.7 million youth ages 4-17 years (66.3% of those with a current diagnosis) report that their child was receiving medication treatment for the disorder.
  • Rates of medication treatment for ADHD varied by age and sex; children aged 11-17 years of age were more likely than those 4-10 years of age to take medication, and boys are 2.8 times more likely to take medication than girls.

Read here for a more extensive listing of statistics.

While there are legitimate diagnoses of ADHD, a question of misdiagnosis has arisen. According to new research by Todd Elder, a Michigan State economist, “approximately 1 million children in the U.S. are potentially misdiagnosed with ADHD.” His argument brings up the issue of giftedness and behavioral issues having resulted in a misdiagnosis of ADHD. Are they valid? We’ll see as I explore this idea in another blog. In the meantime, if you suspect your child is having difficulties, get them help. There is far more internal stigma that occurs when a child is struggling with an untreated mental health issue than the stigma that may occur with the diagnosis itself. It’s up to us as parents, teachers, caregivers, therapists, and counselors to see to it that the youth of our future have their needs met in the way that best benefits them.

When we are able to manage our symptoms, we have a better chance of getting to the root of the cause.

Addiction ADHD Mental Health

ADHD and Addiction

There’s an interesting correlation between ADHD and substance abuse, with research showing children who have ADHD as being more likely to struggle with addiction issues as adults. According to the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders, “some studies show a higher rate of ADHD among substance abusers and that people with ADHD may develop substance abuse problems at an earlier age.”  The three main characteristics of ADHD are: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, which can lead to high levels of anxiety, restlessness, and stress. Attempting to manage these symptoms can be overwhelming, particularly if one is symptomatic yet untreated.
As researchers and medical professionals dig deeper into addiction issues and ADHD, they are finding proof that lower levels of dopamine is a key factor. Sufferers begin to self-medicate and will often find temporary relief when they smoke marijuana, for example. Why? Well, because THC temporarily triggers the brain to release dopamine and dopamine makes us feel better. The user doesn’t realize the damaging effects THC has to their brain cells and this type of self-medication can set the stage for substance abuse, particularly since the use of drugs and alcohol can provide a sense of calm, even if just for a minute. Also, with an inclination toward impulsivity and risk-taking, ADHD sufferers tend toward perilous behaviors, which can also allude to addiction issues.
It’s important then, as parents, and friends of those suffering from addiction to look at ADHD as a link. Taking a whole-body approach is necessary–one must treat the ADHD component in collusion with the addiction component. Twelve-step meetings or treatment are wonderful tools to combat and cope with one’s addiction and will allow one to better handle the prescription treatment involved with managing ADHD. They have to be undertaken together, however, or one will counteract the other.

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