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How does attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affect adults and teens?

Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, PhD
Psychology Specialist

Adults with ADHD
Adults with ADHD often have a high need for constant stimulation, are impulsive, have difficulty concentrating and are likely to forget about promises and commitments. Many times they are pitifully underemployed. Because the symptoms of ADHD read like a checklist of complaints—adults with ADHD face many challenges in relationships because of their constant need for action and stimulation.

While it’s important not to glamorize the gifts of ADHD, an extreme focus on the problems of ADHD can also take its toll. ADHD adults can be driven to despair by the unrelenting punishments of environment focused excessively, harshly, and rigidly on what they could not do, rather than on what they could do. By finding and focusing on the gifts of ADHD you don't have to gloss over the problems, but rather give yourself more choices in the face of these problems.

The good news for the adult with ADHD is that defiance can transform into self-reliance as an adult, leading to both new ways of looking at the world and new solutions to old problems. Impulsiveness can become an asset for taking action in the real world. The ADHD adult may take risks others won't but sometimes those risks pay off. The high levels of energy can also help the adult with ADHD to keep up a fast paced working environment whether it is a dot.com start up or as a firefighter.

Adults with ADHD have many more choices than children with ADHD do. An adult with ADHD is more interested in shaping her environment than being shaped by it. This is called defiance in the classroom, but it can be called leadership in the boardroom.

Teens with ADHD
Sometimes teens with ADHD think that they are not on the same playing field as others, but that is not true. ADHD does, however, present many challenges for teens. Having ADHD means teens are different from others in what they pay attention to. Teachers and parents complain that the teen has difficulty focusing on schoolwork or following directions. Others may complain the teen is too hyper.

ADHD comes with gifts as well as challenges. If the teen can find and focus on the gifts he can build the confidence and motivation needed to achieve his goals. Many teens with ADHD are creative, emotionally sensitive, and good at reading others. While these very gifts may create challenges in getting good grades, they offer opportunities for success in many arenas and career choices.

Dr. Diana K. Blythe, MD
Pediatrician

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder affects teens in much the same way as younger children. Unfortunately teens usually have more schoolwork to do and more obligations. Time management is even more important, as is making any needed modifications to medications.

Try keeping a homework/activity log in a day planner. By doing this, teens will be able to track their commitments. In addition, remember that it is okay to drop an activity if workload becomes overwhelming.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can sometimes make life difficult for teens. Teens may feel frustrated or embarrassed by what they consider a label of ADHD. While some symptoms of ADHD improve at this time, others get more serious. 

On a positive note, symptoms of hyperactivity may decrease between childhood and adolescence. Your once-fidgety child may now have an easier time sitting still and concentrating. 

Unfortunately, other ADHD symptoms do not go away. The teen years bring an increased workload and more responsibilities. Increased pressure from peers, coaches, and teachers can all add stress to your teen's life. Teens with ADHD may not be as well-equipped to handle these situations as others. If your teen appears to be sensitive, depressed, or is abusing drugs or alcohol, seek help. Counseling can be very beneficial for teens with ADHD.

Dr. Ronald M. Firth, MD
Family Practitioner

Attention deficit disorder affects the person's ability to concentrate and sort out the important stimuli from the unimportant stimuli. People with ADD are extremely bright, but ADD causes difficulty being successful in several areas leaving the teen feeling like a loser. The teen years are so important in developing a sense of self. They are distracted not only with school work, but social clues, family priorities and general follow through. They will receive feedback from peers that they are difficult to be around as they are impulsive and don't "follow the rules". Often they are labeled as stupid (far from the truth) or disruptive.  Impulsive behavior often gets them in to trouble.

Parent-child relationships are strained because at a time when developing independence is so important the parents have to be increasingly involved to ensure their success with homework and other important matters. This puts the teens independence-seeking at odds with the parents' success-seeking desires for their teen.

The future success of the teen is intimately tied to school success. Success in school  is dependent on completing tasks on time, retaining information from textbooks, interacting in group assignments, and doing well on timed tests. All of these tasks are difficult for teens with ADD.

Thus, the most important things in a teens life are negatively impacted by ADD—self esteem, friends, developing independence and the developing parent-child-as-an- adult relationship. 

Unless the condition is properly addressed, it can be an explosive situation for the teen. Often they turn to drugs, alcohol and friends that are not excelling either in an effort to fit in and dull the pain of their lack of success.

Being a teen is tough. Your body is changing, you feel like your parent (or teacher) is always yelling at you for something, and all you want to do is sleep. Well, if you add attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), functioning is that much harder. So it is no surprise that teens with ADHD can have trouble with anxiety, depression, and even substance abuse. 

Luckily, a combination of medication and therapy works as well as Batman and Robin to reduce ADHD symptoms and emotional problems.

Being a teenager isn't always easy. Teens with ADHD can have a tough time. School may be a struggle, and some teens take too many risks or break rules. But like children with ADHD, teens can get better with treatment.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

If you or your spouse has attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, it can really put a damper on your marriage. The ADHD adult often forgets to carry out important responsibilities like paying bills, has trouble keeping scheduled appointments and can exhibit unpredictable or hot-tempered behavior.

This content originally appeared on doctoroz.com.

Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

Psychiatrist and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) expert Dr. Edward Hallowell explains how ADHD affects adults. Watch Dr. Hallowell's video for tips and information on mental health and ADHD.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.