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Teen ADHD and Drug Abuse: Not a One-Size-Fits-All Treatment

June 22, 2015

Teen ADHD and Drug Abuse

“You’re such a bright kid and you’re just throwing it all away by being so lazy.” Have you ever felt this way about a teen with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and substance abuse issues? Did you know that there are many creative, high-achieving CEOs, sports players, and celebrities who have ADHD?

Adam Levine, Richard Branson, Michael Phelps, Jim Carey, Justin Timberlake, Lisa Ling and are just a few celebrities who have ADHD. While a few of these people have struggled with substance abuse and ADHD, they’ve also overcome it.

In the United States, there are 6.4 million children ages 4-17 who have been diagnosed with ADHD, with the average age of diagnosis at 7 years old. What’s more, over 70 percent of children with ADHD also have it in adolescence, which can be a tricky time to balance ADHD symptoms with the pressures of being a teenager.

How Does ADHD Affect Teens?

Biological Effects

ADHD is caused by a structural deficit in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is the executive function of the brain that controls decision making and planning.

Several studies have proven that ADHD is highly-genetic and can be passed directly from the parents or skip a generation. However, it can also occur because of premature birth, fetal alcohol syndrome, and/or childhood brain injuries.

Psychological Effects

By the time children reach adolescence there hyperactivity usually subsides. Teenagers already deal with a lot and can feel overwhelmed with life without the symptoms of ADHD. With common symptoms like the inability to engage in the moment, listen, stay alert due to lethargy, and perform well in class, anxiety and depression is common.

Social Interactions

As the stress and anxiety builds from constantly being misunderstood, it’s not uncommon for teens to escape that anxiety by choosing substance abuse or acting out whether it’s in school, public or at home. Also, it can be difficult to maintain healthy relationships with friends and family due to constant outbursts and agitation.

Common Symptoms of ADHD

Not every person with ADHD exhibits the same symptoms. Some adolescents have one or more types of ADHD and some have it along with other co-occurring mental health disorders; therefore, ADHD can’t be treated with a one-size-fits-all approach.

There are two main types of ADHD: Inattentive and Hyperactive/Impulsive. According to renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Amen, there are seven subtypes of ADHD:

  • Classic – short attention; distractibility; disorganization; procrastination; poor impulse control
  • Inattentive – trouble focusing; not hyperactive or impulsive; introverted; common in girls
  • Overfocused – trouble shifting attention; stuck in repetitive thoughts on one thing
  • Ring of Fire – moody; easily distracted; overthinking; overly sensitive to sound and lights
  • Limbic – classic symptoms plus sadness; depressed; negative thoughts; poor appetite; social isolation
  • Temporal – Learning problems; poor memory; short-tempered/aggressive outbursts
  • Anxious – classic symptoms plus anxiety; stress; nervousness; tension

Add the ADHD symptoms from one or more of these types with substance abuse and the daily stressors of growing up as a teen today and it’s pretty easy to see how stressful situations can become overwhelming and almost unbearable.

Proper Treatment for ADHD

Since there are several types of ADHD, treatment should vary. It’s common to treat teens with ADHD with medication alone, such as stimulants; however, depending on the type of ADHD, stimulants can actually worsen symptoms and some supplements may prove to work better.

Common ADHD medications include stimulants such as:

  • Ritalin
  • Adderall
  • Concerta
  • Vyvanse
  • Strattera (non-stimulant)

Helpful supplements to regulate mood and diet include:

  • Ginseng
  • Ginkgo Biloba
  • GABA supplements (calming effect)
  • Omega 3 (fish oil)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Zinc/iron
  • Staying active (exercise, sports, etc.)

When substance abuse is involved, it’s important teens seek treatment from an accredited teen residential treatment facility with board-certified professionals. In some cases, detoxification may be necessary.

ADHD and substance abuse is generally treated simultaneously. After detoxing, a physician or psychiatrist may recommend medical or supplemental treatment along with behavioral therapy from a clinical therapist.

Helpful Interventions for Parents and Teens

At a teen treatment center, your teen will be able to receive balanced treatment for their ADHD as well as discuss any underlying issues that could be contributing to their substance abuse. A primary therapist can help with behavior modification, along with help from parents/guardians.

According to the National Resource Center on ADHD, some helpful interventions along with therapy that parents can use at home include:

  • Establishing house rules with consistent structure
  • Asking for small individual tasks instead of multiple tasks at once
  • Planning homework and other extracurricular activities in advance
  • Rewarding behavior and performance
  • Learning to praise positive or good behaviors
  • Ignoring mild negative behaviors by choosing battles

If you have an adolescent with ADHD, it’s important to understand that they feel the pressure to assimilate knowing that they are not like everyone else. Yet, their high intelligence and unique abilities can actually draw out many positive attributes.

Consistent support, collaboration and open communication with your teen can lead to more accomplishments and fewer disappointments from now well into adulthood. If you have more questions about ADHD and substance abuse, give our counselors a call today (844)319-5239.

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