Holistic Treatment of ADHD in Teens & Adolescents

One common mental health condition that occurs in childhood and adolescence is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In this article, we discuss the holistic approach to managing ADHD in adolescence.


ADHD in Teens & Adolescents

Over 3.3 million adolescents in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD, with boys being twice more likely than girls to receive the diagnosis. Many adolescents with ADHD have other mental health conditions as well, particularly anxiety disorders, depression, autism spectrum disorder, and conduct disorder.
ADHD is characterized by the presence of at least six symptoms (or five symptoms, for individuals of 17 years or older) of two groups of symptoms, as described below.

  1. Inattention: This group of symptoms includes not attending to details, getting distracted (e.g., by thoughts or environmental stimuli), having difficulty staying focused, losing things, being forgetful, not listening closely, failing to finish work, having problems with organization, and avoiding cognitively effortful tasks.

2. Hyperactivity and impulsivity: These symptoms comprise fidgeting and squirming, having difficulty staying seated, feeling restless, being unable to work or play quietly, being usually “on the go,” talking too much, having difficulty waiting for one’s turn, giving answers before the question is finished, and intruding upon ongoing activities.


According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), compared to hyperactivity in childhood, hyperactivity may become less visible during adolescence (e.g., fidgeting instead of running around).  Nevertheless, some symptoms—like inattention, impulsivity, and restlessness—often remain.  These symptoms might persist into adulthood, causing considerable impairment and dysfunction in many domains of life.

Treatment for ADHD in Teens & Adolescents

The most common treatment for ADHD is medications. According to a 2016 survey, over 60% of adolescents with ADHD were taking medications—chiefly stimulants, such as Ritalin. Stimulants can be quite effective. Indeed, teens with ADHD who take stimulants often report feeling calmer and more focused.

However, these medications have side effects (e.g., sleep problems, appetite, or weight changes). In addition, though lifestyle factors like unhealthy eating and chronic stress do not cause ADHD, they can make symptoms much worse. Therefore, many families of children with ADHD have expressed interest in more holistic treatments for this condition.

Holistic Treatment of ADHD in Teens & Adolescents

Holistic approaches emphasize treating the whole person (not just the disorder) and helping individuals with ADHD live a healthy and purposeful life.

These approaches do not necessarily exclude medications, but they emphasize non-pharmaceutical interventions like stress-management techniques, aerobic exercise, healthy eating (e.g., omega-3 fatty acids, eliminating food coloring), support groups, and school/community involvement. And numerous other holistic therapies for ADHD (e.g., megavitamins, chelation therapy, neurofeedback) remain under investigation.

Another non-drug treatment for ADHD is psychotherapy, particularly cognitive and behavior therapies. Therapy can teach individuals with ADHD important skills to help them become more resilient. Some examples are skills related to behavioral monitoring, organization and planning, managing social situations, and cognitive restructuring.

Another type of therapy, family therapy, may also be useful. Family therapy can teach parents and caregivers about the nature of ADHD, how to communicate effectively with their adolescent children, how to manage their problematic behaviors (e.g., through rules, structure, appropriate rewards), etc.

Concluding thoughts

ADHD is a developmental disorder characterized by impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity. Not all adolescents with ADHD seek treatment. However, even many of those who do seek treatment do not adhere to the therapies prescribed. In one study of teens with ADHD, less than half adhered to their medication regimen (for most of them, Ritalin).
By expanding our focus beyond medications, and by using additional therapies that address the various needs of teens, we are more likely to help adolescents with ADHD adhere to their treatment, and function better at home, school, and community.

What is Treatment-Resistant Depression?

Treatment-resistant depression is depression that has failed to respond to at least 3 antidepressant medications from different drug classes.

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About Harbor Psychiatry & Mental Health

We believe outstanding healthcare is delivered when we merge the science of medicine with the compassion of our hearts. We refer to this as “head and heart together,” inspiring constant improvement and lasting success.
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