Encouraging Independence in Teenagers with ADHD
The teenage years can be a special challenge. Academic and social demands increase. In some cases, symptoms may be better controlled as the child grows older; however, frequently the demands for performance also increase so that in most cases, ADHD symptoms persist and continue to interfere with the child’s ability to function adequately.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 80% of those who required medication for ADHD as children still need it as teenagers.
Parents play an important role in helping teenagers become independent. Encourage your teenager to help herself with the following strategies:
• Using a daily planner for assignments and appointments
• Making lists
• Keeping a routine
• Setting aside a quiet time and place to do homework
• Organizing storage for items such as school supplies, clothes, CDs, and sports equipment
• Talking about problems with someone she trusts
• Being safety conscious (e.g., always wearing seat belts, using protective gear for sports)
• Getting enough sleep
• Understanding her increased risk of abusing substances such as tobacco and alcohol
Activities such as sports, drama, and debate teams can be good places to channel excess energy and develop friendships. Find what your teenager does well and support her efforts to “go for it.”
Milestones such as learning to drive and dating offer new freedom and risks. Parents must stay involved and set limits for safety. Your child’s ADHD increases her risk of incurring traffic violations and accidents.
It remains important for parents of teenagers to keep in touch with teachers and make sure that their teenager’s schoolwork is going well. Talk with your pediatrician if your teen shows signs of severe problems such as depression, drug abuse, or gang-related activities.
The following is a list of support groups and additional resources for further information about ADHD. Check with your pediatrician for resources in your community.
• National Resource Center on AD/HD
• Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) or 800/233-4050
• Attention Deficit Disorder Association or 856/439-9099
• Center for Parent Information and Resources
• National Institute of Mental Health or 866/615-6464
ADHD and Substance Abuse: The Link Parents Need to Know
Kids with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely than other kids to smoke, drink, or use drugs. They experiment with all three at younger ages than those children without ADHD. They are also at a greater risk for developing a substance use disorder. There are several theories as to why ADHD increases the risk for substance use:
• Impulsivity, poor judgment and school troubles that can go along with ADHD may increase the risk for initiating substance use.
• There could be a genetic link between ADHD and the vulnerability for developing a substance use disorder.
• Individuals with ADHD may try to use psychoactive drugs to self-medicate.
Early Treatment of ADHD May Decrease the Risk of Substance Abuse
The timing of treatment matters. Children treated at a younger age for ADHD may be less likely to develop substance use disorders compared to those who begin treatment later. Treatment may delay the onset of substance use. Treating mental health disorders that often co-exist with ADHD, such as anxiety and depression, is also important and also increase the risk for substance use.
Are Stimulant Drugs for ADHD Addictive?
Stimulant mediations are considered “first line” treatment for ADHD. No study has ever found that stimulant treatment increases rates of substance use disorders, however stimulant medications can be misused, abused, or given to others. Close monitoring is recommended to prevent misuse. Your doctor may question you closely if your child loses pills or runs out early as those can be signs of misuse.
Some types of ADHD medication are more likely to be misused compared to others. For example, short acting stimulant medications are abused more often than longer acting or non-stimulant medications. Talk to your child’s doctor for more information about the risks and benefits of different types of medication used to treat ADHD.
Does Your Teen Have ADHD, a Drug Problem, or Both?
Alcohol and drug use can cause symptoms that are similar to ADHD, including: attention problems, difficulty completing tasks, disorganization, trouble sleeping, poor appetite, reluctance to socialize with others, and/or loss of interest in school. One of the big differences is ADHD starts in early elementary school while most substance use disorders begin in middle school and not first grade. Parents should pay close attention to any change in behavior, even if you think it could be attributed to your child’s ADHD.
What Parents Can Do
• Communicate with your teen about safe and acceptable behavior. Set an example by not misusing alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs yourself.
• Pay attention to your child’s friends. If your child is hanging out with someone who is into drugs, it is very highly likely that your child may be exposed to drugs as well.
• Talk with your child about the importance of using all medications, including stimulants, exactly as prescribed. Discuss side effects and other concerns with your child’s doctor.
• Sharing, selling, or distributing prescription stimulants is always illegal and is dangerous. Keep a close eye on your teens’ ADHD medication, as prescription drug abuse among teens is on the rise. Make sure your child understands that he should never give his medication to anyone.
• Do not keep the medication in a public place such as in the bathroom or the kitchen or anywhere else people can see it. Make sure it’s locked up or put away and monitored. Teach your kids to be responsible for their medication, too. Help her learn to manage her ADHD and to own her condition, and be aware that she is at higher risk for certain problems.
Courtesy of the American Academy of Pediatrics (aap.org)