Treatment for ADHD
Distracted and Hyperactive?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions in teens, and the most commonly diagnosed neurodevelopmental condition. However, ADHD cases also vary in symptoms and severity, and parents are rightfully worried about their child’s best treatment options and long-term care.
Treatment for ADHD might differ from child to child, depending on what symptoms they exhibit and how their symptoms impact school life, as well as relationships at home. Most treatments will center around behavior-modifying therapy programs to help teens identify and adjust problematic habits, as well as medication to deal with the toughest cognitive symptoms, such as concentration and focus problems, memory issues, and more.
ADHD affects a teen in more ways than just academic or behavioral. Children with ADHD don’t just struggle to sit still or listen but may struggle to form relationships with others due to their behavior. ADHD can significantly set back a teen’s potential both cognitively and socially, increase their risk of victimization, and can even continue to be a significant issue later in life if untreated or treated inadequately, by challenging a teen’s executive functioning, problem-solving skills, and ability to self-regulate.
As a neurodevelopmental health issue, we know today that ADHD begins in childhood, and is related to development issues in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Treatment revolves around reducing the severity of certain symptoms, and helping children and teens cope with their behavioral or cognitive strengths and weaknesses. As adults, people with treated ADHD can find career pathways and specializations that suit their personalities and cognitive strengths.
Identifying and treating ADHD with an individualized therapy and medication program is important, and can mean the difference between struggling to become independent after school, and enjoying a much better transition into adulthood.
How Common is ADHD?
Rates for ADHD have increased up to 42 percent between 2003 and 2011 among children aged 4-17, in part due to the fact that the criteria and screening processes for ADHD have greatly improved. Today, the CDC estimates that about 7 to 11 percent of schoolchildren struggle with ADHD.
Many adults grew up without ever being diagnosed for their ADHD and have had to develop their own coping skills as a result – some dysfunctional, and some helpful.
This is partly why we know that untreated ADHD often correlates with a much higher risk of anxiety problems, depressive disorders, substance use disorder, and difficulty finding employment. While people can cope without treatment, it’s a long and arduous road with unnecessarily painful setbacks.
Does that mean rates will stagnate? Perhaps. But current research indicates that there are still many demographics who are not being adequately screened for symptoms of ADHD, especially on a regional level, and internationally. Furthermore, ADHD is diagnosed more often in males, but may be underdiagnosed among girls. This is because girls are more likely to have inattentive symptoms rather than hyperactivity symptoms, and thus fly under the radar more often.
The diagnostic criteria for ADHD have drastically changed over the years, and screening processes have significantly improved. Just because a condition is common does not mean we should not consider treatment. Untreated ADHD categorically poses a greater threat for kids and teens than any treatment plan, including medication.
What Does ADHD Look Like?
Most ADHD symptoms can be differentiated as either attention-deficit symptoms (inattentiveness) or hyperactivity symptoms. Cases of ADHD are usually either classified as attention-deficit, hyperactivity, or combined cases. Severity can also differ – some kids, teens, and even adults might seem generally scatterbrained, but seem to cope without treatment. Others struggle with debilitating symptoms, and are unable to complete required assignments or function alone.
Symptoms differ from case to case, but the most common signs are:
- Lack of organizational skills
- Often cluttered mentally and physically (cluttered living spaces, cluttered schedules)
- Inability to focus on the topic at hand, on given tasks, or on conversations
- Tends to make the same mistakes, may seem messy/careless in their work
- May have trouble staying with one topic, and might break many social rules without awareness
- Might have difficulty with certain social cues, and may not be very sociable
- Will appear aloof, often daydreaming
- More likely to fidget and squirm when not otherwise occupied
- Extremely talkative
- Will have seemingly endless energy, more so than other kids, and even as a teen
- Will have a hard time staying put or quiet
- Will often interrupt conversations, despite knowing it is rude
- Cannot control their impulsiveness around others
- Will cut people off to answer a question before it is fully asked
- Will try to start conversations even at inappropriate times
Is Medication Necessary When Treating ADHD?
Medication can help children and teens with ADHD, especially with severe symptoms. It isn’t cut-and-dry – there are different types of medication, and a person might react to each type differently.
For the most part, ADHD medication is split between fast-acting stimulants, and nonstimulants. Nonstimulant medication takes longer to work but may last longer if the person responds well to it. A doctor may prescribe different types of medication until the right drug is found.
Depending on a teen’s symptoms and the efficacy of their therapy, they might not need medication. Some teens and adults, however, need medication to function “normally” at school or at work, whether that means being able to pay attention and retain information, or organize and execute a workflow in a healthy manner.
ADHD and Comorbid Conditions
ADHD has a long list of potential comorbid conditions, especially if left untreated. These conditions can complicate treatment, which is why it is often important to emphasize a holistic approach to a teen’s mental health – i.e., focusing on their physical, mental, and social condition as a person, rather than a specific diagnosis. Treating a teen’s ADHD may require cotreatment of their depression or anxiety issues, or ongoing drug use.
At the Arrow House, we emphasize that mental health treatment is a long-term journey, and our treatment plan is an important foundation for that journey. Our residential treatment can help teens with ADHD by organizing a treatment plan with mental health professionals that incorporates daily schedules, healthy habit forming, one-on-one and group therapy sessions, medication, and various therapeutic modalities. Get in touch with us today to learn more.