Adolescent ADHD and ADD - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral disorder that affects millions of teens in the United States. It is a disorder that involves periods of hyperactivity, inattentiveness, or impulsive behavior.

ADHD has recently become an internet phenomenon that has seen more and more teens seek a diagnosis for symptoms associated with ADHD. ADHD can have several effects on your teen’s life since it can lead to struggling to focus in classes, managing their time, trouble organizing their thoughts, frequent misplacement or loss of important possessions, and trouble completing multi-step tasks. These struggles can make your teen’s academic performance decline since they have trouble focusing in the classroom or understanding complex equations required in school.

It is important to seek diagnosis and treatment for ADHD if you suspect your teen may have developed the condition. A wide range of treatment options are available for teens with ADHD, including, but not limited to, residential treatment for teens with chronic ADHD.

ADD and ADHD in Adolescents

Teens with ADHD have trouble maintaining focus and struggle with teenage impulsive behaviour. As your teen grows, symptoms of ADHD may lessen since they can learn how to cope and focus on the tasks at hand. As a parent, you should educate yourself on ADHD, its causes, the risk factors associated with ADHD, symptoms of ADHD in teens, and its prevalence in teens.

Causes and Risk Factors of ADD and ADHD in Teens

ADHD is thought to be caused by several factors working together. Studies indicate that genetics, environmental factors, brain development, and environmental toxins are the main causes of ADHD in teens.

Genetic Components

Studies indicate that genetics play an important role in developing ADHD in teens. According to a study on siblings aged 5-17, it was determined that kids whose parents had symptoms of ADHD were 9 times as likely to inherit ADHD. Another study conducted on biological and adopted siblings determined that adopted kids were less likely to show signs of ADHD compared with kids from parents with ADHD. This shows that ADHD can be hereditary and is passed down to kids. A twin study concluded that the average hereditability of ADHD stood at 74%, showing a strong correlation between genetics and ADHD.

Environmental Factors

There is strong evidence to support the suggestion that environmental factors can lead to the development of ADHD in teens. According to studies, children who slept for 10 hours or more a day had a reduced likelihood of developing ADHD later in life. Studies showed no correlation between time spent watching television and ADHD. However, these studies conflicted with other findings that suggested time watching tv can contribute to the development of ADHD. This may be linked to the short attention span associated with kid tv shows. The shows are purposefully designed to have about 5 seconds of stimulation before a change of scene to keep your kid’s brain engaged for as long as possible. This may interfere with the brain’s functioning, preventing it from maintaining focus on boring tasks. Reduced physical activity has also been shown to be a determinant in the development of ADHD in teens.

Environmental toxins

Toxins may affect the brain’s development and functioning, leading to the development of ADHD. Some possible toxins being investigated include lead and flaking paint laced with gasoline. Toxins such as nicotine, tar, and alcohol taken during pregnancy increases the risk of developing ADHD in the fetus.

Brain development

According to imaging done on the frontal lobes of individuals with ADHD, it can be concluded that brain development plays a key role in the onset of ADHD symptoms. There was a significant difference between the frontal lobes of teens with ADHD and those without. Studies have demonstrated a link between attention and the teen’s level of brain activity.

There are misconceptions about what causes ADHD. Some individuals believe puberty and the home environment can lead to the onset of ADHD. Puberty does not cause ADHD, but it can worsen its symptoms. This is due to dramatic hormonal changes that can intensify symptoms of a pre-existing condition. Studies have also indicated no link between home dysfunction and the development of ADHD.

Signs and Symptoms of ADD and ADHD in Teens

ADHD can develop in various forms. These types include inattention, hyperactivity/ impulsivity, and combined. Depending on the type of ADHD your teen has been diagnosed with, symptoms may vary. Some signs and symptoms of inattention ADHD include the following:

  • Overlooking details and making careless mistakes on work or school projects
  • Inability to maintain focus in conversations or the tasks at hand
  • Zoning out or being easily distracted
  • Struggles with time management and organization
  • Difficulty in keeping track of where things are or organizing tasks
  • Difficulty maintaining focus on multi-step tasks
  • Refusal to participate in activities requiring focus, such as writing reports
  • Frequently losing their possessions
  • Easily forgetting appointments and other daily activities, such as chores

Some symptoms of hyperactivity disorder include the following:

  • Restlessness
  • Frequent tapping, fidgeting, and squirming
  • Difficulty sitting still for extended periods
  • Always trying to keep their hands and feet busy by touching objects and pacing
  • Excessive talking
  • Having trouble waiting for a turn
  • Constantly interrupting others
  • Blurting out answers preemptively
  • Being in constant motion
  • Running around in inappropriate situations
  • Constant fidgeting

For combined ADHD, your teen may present with both signs of hyperactivity and inattentiveness.

Diagnosis of ADD and ADHD in Teens

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders, fifth edition, ADHD is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder. ADHD prevalence in children is high, affecting about 5.3 million kids.

According to the DSM-5 guidelines, teens need to exhibit signs of ADHD before the age of 12 to qualify for a diagnosis. The listed criteria for diagnosis of ADHD are divided according to the subtypes of ADHD. A constant diagnostic criterion is that the symptoms must have persisted for at least 6 months. Diagnosis for Inatention ADHD involves the following criteria:

  • Six or more of the symptoms should have persisted for more than 6 months. The symptoms need to negatively affect, directly or indirectly, academic performance or occupational activities.
  • Constant careless mistakes in school or work projects. The mistakes should involve an overlook of details.
  • Difficulty in sustaining focus on tasks
  • They are often spacing out during conversations
  • Difficulty following through on projects, such as homework
  • Is often disorganized and has trouble organizing tasks
  • Frequent loss of important things required to achieve daily tasks
  • Easily distracted
  • Avoiding activities that require mental strain

The diagnostic criteria for hyperactivity and impulsive ADHD include the following:

  • Constant fidgeting and tapping
  • Frequent running or climbing in inappropriate situations
  • Constant motion
  • Excessive talking
  • Trouble waiting for their turn
  • These symptoms should be present in two or more settings.
  • The symptoms interfere with day-to-day activities.
  • The symptoms do not occur only during manic or schizophrenic episodes. The symptoms should not be attributed to other psychotic disorders like panic or mood disorders.

When making a diagnosis, the therapist should specify whether the symptoms indicate a combined, predominantly inattentive, or predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation. The therapist should also specify the severity of ADHD from mild to severe.

Residential Treatment for Add and ADHD Adolescents

At Key Healthcare, we specialize in providing both teen mental health treatment and Teen addiction treatment. Our Residential Treatment Center for Teens (RTC), located in Malibu, Los Angeles, is reserved for teens with chronic mental health and substance abuse issues, such as severe forms of ADHD.

At Key Healthcare, we utilize several treatment modalities to help teens with ADHD develop healthy coping mechanisms and manage their symptoms. We use treatment modalities such as evidence-based approaches, holistic therapies, and pharmacological interventions to manage the symptoms of severe ADHD. Our RTC program runs for 45-60 days and is reserved for teens aged 13-17. Our qualified and experienced staff offer your teen round-the-clock care to ensure successful treatment and recovery.

Residential Treatment Center (RTC)

The RTC program is necessary for teens whose symptoms cannot be managed at home. It provides a safe and structured environment for your teen to focus on recovery as they develop healthy coping mechanisms. The program is curated for each resident, depending on their level of care to ensure that every resident is treated effectively. It utilizes evidence-based modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectal behavior therapy (DBT) to help teens manage their emotions. We also utilize holistic therapy approaches like art, music, and yoga therapy to help teens develop skills to cope with their condition while also increasing their expressiveness.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy for teens is a form of psychotherapy based on the idea that thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are connected. If your teen can change their thoughts, their behavior also changes. Emphasizing positive thinking for teens, CBT is useful in treating various mental health conditions, such as ADHD, since it focuses on emotional regulation. It can be utilized during individual, group, or teen family therapy to help your teen acquire problem-solving, emotional regulation, and relationship-building skills.

CBT uses its structure to help teens break the cycle of negative thinking and behaviors. During therapy, the therapist will set goals your teen needs to achieve to solve a particular problem. It can be useful in treating ADHD since it involves working together to achieve a common goal. Your teen can be given homework and other assignments to help them focus on tasks. CBT usually takes 12-20 weeks but depends on the severity of the issue.

CBT involves activities like journaling, cognitive restructuring, behavioral experiments, guided discovery, and stress management to ensure your teen can thrive in a dynamic setting.

Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT for teens is an emotional regulation therapy based on the idea that two opposing thoughts can exist simultaneously and both be true. It helps teens accept themselves for who they are while working to change their pattern of behavior. It was first developed to treat borderline personality disorder in teens but was shown to be effective in treating antisocial personality disorder in teens along with other mental health conditions such as ADD and ADHD.

DBT can be used in group and individual therapy for teens to help them process their emotions, manage stress, and build healthy relationships with others. The beauty of DBT is that it can be used in crisis through phone coaching to help your teen navigate complex emotional and stressful situations. It focuses on helping teens develop four key skills, i.e., mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation.

Holistic and Recreational Therapy

These therapies are effective for treating ADHD since they help teens develop healthy coping mechanisms. They also help teens learn self-expressiveness, introspection, and emotional regulation. At Key Healthcare, we utilize holistic approaches such as art, music, and yoga therapies to treat various mental health conditions.

  • Art therapy: Teen art therapy involves drawing, painting, sculpting, and collage-making. It helps teens learn introspection and self-expression to help them learn more about themselves. Your teen can learn how to manage their emotions by using their artistic works as an outlet.
  • Music therapy: Music has historically been used as a form of therapy that induces calm. In teen music therapy, your teen will participate in music production, songwriting, and playing musical instruments to help them manage their emotions. Music therapy can be beneficial in encouraging teens to develop healthy ADHD coping strategies.
  • Yoga therapy: Yoga therapy is used to connect the body and mind. Activities like breathing exercises, stretching, and performing yoga poses help your teen feel more in touch with their inner self. This connection can be beneficial in treating ADHD by helping them manage their emotions and focus on the task.

Pharmacological Interventions in Teen Residential Treatment for ADD and ADHD

Many teens require medication to help them focus and alleviate the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). At Key Healthcare, our qualified psychologists and staff will assess your teen’s need for pharmacological interventions and prescribe the appropriate medicine and dosage. Our staff will also closely monitor your teen to ensure no adverse side effects occur due to the prescribed medication.

There are two main ADHD medication types: stimulants and non-stimulants. It looks counterintuitive to treat hyperactivity with stimulants, but it works. Stimulants increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the bloodstream and nerve cells. Increased neurotransmitter levels help the brain maintain attention and focus. Stimulants are generally safe but can have some side effects. Stimulants should be taken under medical supervision to prevent misuse and adverse side effects.

Non-stimulant medication can also be used to treat ADHD. These medications typically take longer to start acting but also improve focus and attention. These medications are usually prescribed when a doctor suspects there will be adverse side effects if they prescribe stimulant medication. They can also be used with a lower dose of stimulants to help alleviate the symptoms of ADHD faster.

Benefits of Residential Treatment for Teens with ADD and ADHD

Residential treatment can be daunting for some parents. Understanding how a teen residential treatment center works can help you see how important it is to seek professional help for your teen. Some benefits of residential treatment for ADHD include the following:

  • Structured environment. At Key Healthcare, we offer a safe and structured environment to help your teen focus on their recovery. Your teen will participate in activities like art, yoga, and music therapy to help them develop healthy coping mechanisms for their ADD and ADHD. The structure is important in treating ADHD since it helps your teen have a task to focus on.
  • 24/7 care. Residential facilities offer 24/7 care and support for your teen as they undergo treatment. This helps the staff learn the level of care your teen needs to treat their ADHD effectively. This round-the-clock care helps teens not to feel alone since they have people around to support their recovery.
  • Different treatment modalities ADHD requires multidisciplinary approaches to be treated effectively. Residential treatment centers incorporate different treatment modalities to ensure that your teen receives the best care for their condition. Different modalities can speed up recovery and help your teen easily transition to home life.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment. Residential treatment offers dual diagnosis for co-occurring disorders. ADHD does not cause the onset of other disorders, but it can cause teens to self-medicate to alleviate its symptoms. Self-medication may lead to a substance use problem that needs to be treated together with pre-existing ADHD.
  • Aftercare services. Residential treatment centers may offer teen rehab aftercare programs to help teens develop a healthy support system. Aftercare services also help teens develop healthy coping mechanisms from their peers.

Choosing the Right Residential Treatment for Teens with ADD and ADHD

Recently, residential treatment centers have received negative publicity. Some facilities put their residents through harrowing experiences instead of helping them recover. You need to consider several factors to ensure your teen receives appropriate care. These factors include the following:

  • Accreditation and licensing. Enroll your teen in a residential facility that is properly accredited and licensed. Different states have their requirements for licensing, but you can rest assured that an accredited facility has passed all the requirements set by the state. An accredited facility will ensure that your teen receives high-quality treatment for ADD and ADHD.
  • Staff qualifications and experience. Choose a facility that employs qualified and experienced staff. Adults and teens require different levels of care. Staff specializing in treating teens is important because they can help your teen navigate complex emotional scenarios. Qualified staff is also accountable to their regulatory body, allowing you to address any negative experience with the staff.
  • Costs and insurance coverage. Costs are among the biggest considerations you need to make when choosing a residential treatment facility. Pick a facility that accepts your insurance coverage to ensure you do not get into financial trouble while seeking help for your teen. Many residential treatment centers also offer scholarships to families that cannot afford the cost of treatment. Key Healthcare accepts almost all private insurance covers to ensure teens receive high-quality care. You can verify your insurance coverage by filling in your details on our website. Click on the “verify insurance” tab and key in your details.
  • Aftercare support. Choose a facility with a robust aftercare service. Aftercare is important to help teens develop a support structure and build positive interpersonal relationships with teens suffering from similar issues.


In conclusion, ADHD is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes teens to be inattentive or hyperactive. Their hyperactivity or inattention may cause a decline in their academic and occupational performance. It is caused by factors such as brain chemistry, genetics, environmental toxins, and maternal drug use. Some signs and symptoms of ADHD include overlooking project details, making careless mistakes, zoning out during conversations, avoiding tasks requiring mental strain, fidgeting, constant motion, and talking excessively. These signs and symptoms may indicate your teen has ADHD. In residential treatment for ADHD, your teen will receive behavioral, pharmacological, and holistic interventions to alleviate the symptoms of ADHD and equip them with the necessary skills to cope with it. ADHD can present as predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive, and combined types. It is important to seek professional help if your teen receives an ADD diagnosis.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can a teen with ADD and ADHD receive treatment while still attending school?

Yes, depending on the modality chosen, your teen can continue with their academics as they receive treatment. ADHD treatment can be outpatient, allowing teens to attend their normal school. In residential treatment, teens receive tutoring from qualified academic coaches and tutors to ensure they do not fall behind in school.

What is the difference between inpatient treatment and residential treatment centers?

Residential treatment centers are specialized institutions that require your teen’s commitment to the facility. They usually take longer periods compared to inpatient treatment services.

Can parents visit their teens during residential treatment?

Yes, parents can visit their teens in residential treatment centers. At Key Healthcare, we specialize in family-centered treatment to allow families active participation in their teen’s treatment and recovery.

What are the side effects of ADHD medication?

ADHD medication can lead to loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, irritability, headaches, rapid heart rates, and high blood pressure.

Can adults have ADHD?

Adults can have ADHD, although symptoms may lessen as teens grow.