Treating ADD and ADHD in Teens and Young Adults

Teen attention deficit disorder, or ADD, is a form of ADHD more accurately referred to as “attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, predominantly inattentive presentation”. ADD is characterized by all the same symptoms as ADHD, without the associated hyperactivity or impulsiveness.

ADD is a brain disorder characterized by extreme aloofness, being easily distracted, constant boredom and disinterest. In some ways, ADD can also manifest as a learning disability, essentially causing a teen to struggle with absorbing information.  ADHD is the most common brain disorder among children and can continue into adolescence and adulthood yet ADD is noticed less often because children with ADD tend not to act out as much or be disruptive.

What Does Attention Deficit Disorder Look Like?

  • It’s normal for teens to show a lack of interest in things that genuinely don’t interest them, and it’s also not uncommon to be aloof or absent-minded as a teen. But ADD is characterized by such extreme examples of daydreaming and forgetfulness that a teen struggles to put in any work at school or in their daily life.
  • Teens with ADD may be often losing their things, can’t recall deadlines or responsibilities, misplace objects, fail to turn in schoolwork, and generally have a very hard time paying attention to anyone.
  • Like other forms of ADHD, ADD manifests differently for everyone. Psychiatrists use a set of behaviors and symptoms to determine if a teen is on the spectrum for ADHD and requires teen attention deficit disorder treatment or is simply struggling due to certain personality quirks, requiring limited intervention.

What Causes Attention Deficit Disorder?

There is no explicit cause for ADHD or ADD. Researchers have identified several markers and risk factors that potentially point towards how and why ADD develops, but it’s hard to tell what the cause might be in any given individual’s case. Common factors include:

Family history – like other mental disorders, ADD is more likely to show up in future generations if several family members exhibited similar symptoms, or were diagnosed with the disorder as well. Whatever factor might make up most of the reason for any given individual’s mental health, chances are that it was inherited.

Brain chemicals – some suggest that ADD is the cause of differences in the way certain brain chemicals are released and processed. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are essential in the communication between brain cells and for initiating and managing every function in the body and mind. The particular neurotransmitters that might function differently in teens with ADD are dopamine and norepinephrine.

Brain structure – imaging technology shows that teens and children with ADD sometimes have brains that don’t “fire up” the same way other brains do, particularly in areas of the prefrontal cortex. This complex part of the brain contains several subsections and is summarily responsible for a large amount of our cognitive ability, including impulse control and thoughtfulness. In some cases, ADD is caused by a neurological dysfunction. One of the effects of this dysfunction is the inability to focus, especially under pressure. Because of this, teens with ADD may perform better when relaxed and stimulated positively than when confronted with stress.

How Can I Help My Teen with Attention Deficit Disorder?

Don’t pressure them – teens with ADD don’t perform well under pressure. It’s been shown that in cases where neurological problems are the cause for a teen’s disorder, increased pressure actively makes them do worse, struggling even more to pay attention the harder they try. The answer to that is to give your teen a relaxing, stimulating environment in which to grow. Guide them through subjects that genuinely interest them by harnessing and improving upon their enthusiasm, while teaching them to manage stress and calm down when dealing with things they find uninteresting, or when confronted with pressure. People with ADD have the potential to succeed in life, but they need to learn to manage their emotions in such a way that the negative impact of their disorder is minimized.

Praise them when they do well – it’s easy for any parent to list the things they find frustrating about their children. No child is perfect, and teens in particular are skilled at giving even the most reasonable parents some significant headaches from time to time. But it’s important to remember that your teen does good, too, and you need to remind yourself – and them – of those positives. Some parents live by the idea that pouring honey in a teen’s ears is ineffective at best and dangerous at worst, but praise isn’t always a bad thing. Discipline and rules are important, but so is giving your teen a nudge in the right direction by telling them when they did well.

Work on their conversational skills together – regardless of what your teen is going through, teens are always working on one thing: being someone. That means they spend a lot of time trying to figure out who they are, what image they want to present, how to fit in with others, and how to exist in whatever social environment they have at school or elsewhere. To a teen, being cool is everything. But teens that can’t communicate well have little to no chance of belonging to a group. Help your teen learn to communicate by teaching them to control themselves during conversations, avoiding interruptions, developing listening skills, spending time speaking about another person’s interests, and so on.

What Types of Teen Attention Deficit Disorder Treatment Are Available?

Because ADD so often exists as a co-occurring disorder with other conditions, such as a form of anxiety or a mood disorder, we provide thorough testing in order to accurately diagnose the issue. After ADD is diagnosed, the most successful teen attention deficit disorder treatment tends to be a combination of medication and therapy, including behavioral therapy.

Talk Therapy – While it is true that ADD is usually a neurological disorder, and that medication is the best way to combat the symptoms of this disorder, medication alone isn’t always likely to help your teen cope with their experiences and figure out a way to fit in socially and professionally. The future is always daunting to most teens, and it’s especially scary to someone who is struggling with a mental disorder. A learning disability like ADD can make it difficult to survive out there, even with medication – but the guidance and help of an experienced therapist can make a world of difference.

Talk therapy involves helping your teen better understand how to navigate the world while coping with the problems and limitations of ADD, using CBT and behavioral therapy to lead a normal life, nurture healthy relationships, and get started along a career path.

Medication – The most common forms of medication for treating ADD are stimulants, such as methylphenidate and amphetamines. These medications activate areas of the brain that support focus and attention. Non-stimulant alternatives exist, including atomoxetine (a selective norepinephrine inhibitor), guanfacine and clonidine (used to treat high blood pressure as well), and bupropion (an antidepressant also used to treat nicotine addiction).

It’s important to remember that treatment options work differently for different people, and some teens experience side effects from certain medications and/or find more relief from one medication than another. Stimulants in particular are considered dangerous due to the abuse potential, albeit rarely from the teens themselves.

Teens who undergo ADHD treatment with stimulants tend to experience less drug and alcohol abuse than those who don’t get any treatment. Dosages used to treat ADHD are usually low, and most of the abuse is linked to teens and adults buying illegally distributed prescription stimulants as a way to cope with stress, perform better at work or academically, or for recreational purposes.

Stress Management – Stress can be a significant issue for teens with ADD, causing them to perform worse and struggle even more than they already do with certain tasks and situations. Helping them cope with stress and find ways to deal with stressful situations in their own way is crucial to helping a teen develop the necessary toolset to tackle academic challenges, workplace responsibilities, and other tasks.

Examples may be helping teens try out a number of stress management techniques and therapies, from yoga and meditation to sports and music, or art. Finding the best way to calm down and focus in times of stress is important for teens with ADD.

Teen Attention Deficit Disorder Treatment at Paradigm Treatment

At Paradigm Treatment, we incorporate a number of different approaches to help teens with ADD. A big step is to help teens identify behavior and thoughts that might be inappropriate or false. This is an especially big deal for teens who are struggling not only with symptoms of ADD but with a concurrent disorder such as depression. Another important aspect of therapy at Paradigm Treatment is giving teens concrete tasks to accomplish with varying degrees of difficulty, helping them adjust to certain responsibilities while their disorder is being treated.

Learning with Others – Therapists at Paradigm Treatment also work to help teens become more aware of themselves and their behaviors, so that teens can learn to speak and act with more self-control.  Since sometimes ADD has significant effects on social interactions, therapists might also practice communication techniques with teens, helping them to listen, to not interrupt, to wait their turn, and actively maintain conversations. Being among other teens at Paradigm Treatment helps a lot in forging new friendships and practicing communication skills.

The Right Environment – Creating a positive environment is conducive not only to treatment, but also to helping teens with ADD relax and better absorb information. It becomes harder for teens with ADD to focus under pressure, so feeling calm and happy helps them be more attentive and engaged in any given conversation or topic. This requires a combination of having skilled therapists, and the right kind of environment.

I had been stumbling through life for many years, some good weeks, but mostly bad ones. I blamed everything negative in my life to bad luck or other people being jerks. It took a real bad event in my life to begin looking inward and to come to terms that i was the sole reason for all things bad in my life and I had no idea how to change or fix the problems. You’ve changed my life and I have the deepest gratitude to the entire staff for helping me to the depths you have. I will stay in touch throughout my life, as I feel like you really care how I am doing, and am going to do.  

– Robert L.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Attention Deficit Disorder

Is residential treatment necessary for a teen with ADD?

It depends mostly on the severity of the symptoms and how a teen responds to treatment, as well as any co-occurring disorders. Teens with ADD may turn to drug use as a way to cope with symptoms if their disorder goes undiagnosed, as ADD is easier to miss than other forms of ADHD, and drug use problems are more common among teens with ADD who have not started treatment. As such, a residential treatment program is more effective as it places teens in a drug-free environment where they can work on their mental health while going through recovery.

In other cases where severe symptoms of ADD are paired up with other disorders, including depressive thinking and suicide ideation, residential treatment can also be more effective than the alternative by surrounding a teen with professionals who are capable of assessing a teen’s mental state and helping them accordingly.

How is ADD different from ADHD?

ADD is a form of ADHD without presenting hyperactivity, or impulsive behavior. ADHD is split into predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined types, where people exhibit both. Teens with ADD may still at times present hyperactivity, but not to the degree commonly found in predominantly hyperactive-impulsive teens and children.

This matters, because an accurate diagnosis is important for helping psychiatrists and therapists form a better treatment plan. Because many teens with a form of ADHD often also struggle with other mental health problems, either as a result of their ADHD or for other reasons, holistic multimodal approaches are best, wherein professionals tackle a teen’s condition as a whole rather than separate sets of symptoms, utilizing various different methods rather than relying on a single treatment.

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