Teen Treatment For ADHD

ADHD is a learning difference, not a mental health struggle; but, it is closely associated with a variety of emotional and behavioral issues. For example, there is a strong link between behavior issues, like conduct disorder and opposition defiance disorder, as well as depression and anxiety in teens with ADHD. As a result, many teens with ADHD struggle with problems that extend beyond the classroom and affect their confidence about their future goals. That's where teen treatment for ADHD can help.

Many parents express concerns about traditional treatment options for ADHD, like medication management, especially if their teen is beginning to experiment with other substances. Wilderness therapy is a powerful option for teens with ADHD as it takes an experiential approach to teaching teens social and emotional skills they have struggled to apply in the real world.

The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.

Table of Contents

1. What is ADHD?

  • Facts About ADHD
  • Signs of ADHD
  • Types of ADHD

2. Other Issues Co-Occuring with ADHD

  • Behavior Issues vs ADHD
  • Anxiety Overlaps with ADHD
  • ADHD As a Risk Factor for Substance Use

3. How Does ADHD Impact Everyday Life?

  • School struggles
  • Impulsivity

4. When Does Your Teen Need Treatment for ADHD?

5. How Does Wilderness Therapy at blueFire Help Teens Struggling with ADHD?

1. What is ADHD?

ADHD, or attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder, is a condition that is usually diagnosed in childhood and is often most noticeable in classroom settings, although its underlying symptoms continue to show up through adulthood. Although many teachers may identify ADHD in students who have visible problems with conduct and impulse control, it is better understood as learning differences that can appear in a variety of ways.

Facts About ADHD

  • The estimated number of children diagnosed with ADHD is around 10%
  • Most children are diagnosed between the ages of 6-11
  • About 25% of people with signs of ADHD aren’t diagnosed until adulthood
  • Boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls
  • 90% of diagnosed children receive school support
  • 62% of children take ADHD medication and around half receive behavioral treatment

Signs of ADHD

The four main categories of ADHD symptoms include inattention, mismatch of information, behavioral inhibition and control, and insatiability for new experiences. Types of treatment for ADHD depend on the most prevalent symptoms.

  • Inattention refers to difficulty concentrating, particularly for longer periods of time. This is considered one of the most common signs of ADHD.
  • Mismatch of information involves difficulty integrating information and deciding what information (like assignment deadlines or instructions) is important.
  • Behavioral inhibition and control explains why many teens with ADHD are identified due to behavior problems. They act and speak quickly without thinking or planning, which can make it difficult to self-monitor their decision making.
  • Insatiability for new experiences refers to being easily bored with information and easily distracted. This may look like being restless and struggling to concentrate on activities that are not exciting enough. This explains why they are more likely to take risks, like experimenting with substances, or become preoccupied with a subject of interest.

Types of ADHD

Primarily hyperactive-impulsive type

  • Fidgety and restless
  • Has trouble sitting down for an extended period of times
  • Impulsive
  • Talks excessively and struggles to stay quiet
  • Frequently interrupts others and has trouble waiting for their turn

Primarily inattentive type

  • Difficulty staying focused during class, reading, or play activities
  • Struggles to finish tasks they’ve started
  • Makes careless mistakes around attention to details
  • Difficulty staying organized
  • Easily distracted
  • Often forgetful and misplaces things

Primarily combined type

  • Combination of hyperactivity and inattention
  • Most common type

2. Other Issues Co-Occuring with ADHD

Almost two-thirds of children with ADHD also struggle with other emotional and behavioral issues, including 50% with behavior problems, 33% with anxiety, 17% with depression, and 14% on the Autism Spectrum.

  • Behavior Issues vs ADHD: Hyperactive teens are more likely to get in trouble for being disruptive in classrooms than their peers. Many teens with ADHD also have difficulties with impulse control that can make it harder for them to manage their anger, as they may “explode” before they can recognize that they are angry in the first place. Despite the overlap, ADHD is considered a learning difference rather than a conduct disorder.
  • Anxiety Overlaps with ADHD: Girls with ADHD are at a greater risk for anxiety and depression than boys and are often diagnosed with co-occurring disorders before ADHD, which may not be considered disruptive until later in life. They are more likely to experience low self-esteem and feel less in control of their lives as a result of the social struggles and academic struggles that may accompany ADHD.
  • ADHD As a Risk Factor for Substance Use: People with ADHD are at least 1.5 times more likely to experiment with substances than their peers. It is estimated that about 25% of teens that have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder also have ADHD. Insatiability for new experiences and self-medicating problems with attention and restlessness may contribute to the decision to experiment with substances. 

2. How does ADHD Impact Everyday Life?

Academic struggles. Based on difficulties with inattention and mismatch of information, students with ADHD are more likely to experience problems with understanding complex concepts without individualized support, completing homework, attendance, and motivation. 

Impulsivity. One of the reasons that teens with ADHD may get into “trouble” more often is that they struggle to think before they speak and filter their thoughts and choices. This may lead to conflict in relationships, breaking rules, and making risky decisions on a whim.

3. When Does Your Child Need Teen Treatment for ADHD?

Adolescence brings a new set of challenges that can be hard for teens with ADHD to adjust to. Often, the symptoms of ADHD change with age as school-related tasks and social situations become more complex. Clients who received early intervention with medication management and social and emotional skills training may be better prepared for the everyday challenges of adolescents than teens who have continued to struggle with symptoms of ADHD. In adolescence, behavior problems may escalate from rough play on the playground to defiance, substance use, or school refusal. If your teen is also struggling with co-occurring mental health issues, they may benefit from treatment for ADHD focused on teaching them healthier coping mechanisms.

Treatment Options for Teens with ADHD

  • Medication Management is of the most common forms of treatment for ADHD. Although there is some controversy around how early to start children should start medication and whether they will become dependent on it, an appropriate dose of medication can help teens with ADHD find equilibrium with how quickly their brain may be working and how they implement information in real-time. Medication is more effective when teens are also learning self-regulation skills. 
  • Therapeutic Boarding Schools are recommended for teens who have fallen behind in school or are struggling socially as they balance group therapy with academic support in smaller classrooms. While they offer individual and group therapy for co-occuring mental health issues, their focus is addressing how ADHD has affected their academic performance and future goals.
  • Wilderness Therapy is a good teen treatment option for ADHD, helping teens who are overstimulated by stressors at home and would benefit from a change in their environment to focus on themselves. Group outdoor activities help teens find an outlet for their hyperactivity and teach the power of communication and planning ahead. Adventure-based wilderness programs help teens build confidence and encourage them to develop more meaningful relationships with others. 


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Types of Therapy for ADHD

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps teens think more about their thoughts, feelings, and behavior and replace negative thoughts with ones that are more realistic and positive.
  • Social Skills Training helps teens learn and practice important skills for interacting with others, like taking turns in conversation and discussing feelings when trying to resolve conflict. 
  • Experiential Therapy is a type of hands-on learning experience for teens who have trouble with sitting still or staying engaged in talk therapy. Experiential therapies may involve adventure activities or equine therapy. This is particularly beneficial for teens who struggle with insatiability for new experiences and the desire for sensory stimulation.
  • Mindfulness is a tool for teens with ADHD who struggle with self-awareness and being in the present moment. Teens can learn and practice how to regulate their emotions and improve their focus without relying on medication.

4. How Does Wilderness Therapy at blueFire Help Teens Struggling with ADHD?

In recent years, psychologists are beginning to recommend more alternative and complementary therapies beyond just medication management for teens with ADHD. In a wilderness therapy program, the combination of the natural setting, holistic diet and focus on simple tasks can result in alleviating the symptoms underlying the disorder and provides teens with the tools they need to make lasting changes in their lives.

Elements of Wilderness Therapy that are beneficial in ADHD treatment include:

  • Outdoor physical activity gives teens with ADHD an outlet for their energy, calms the mind, and reduces feelings of anger and tension.
  • Simplified daily routines reduce the stress of the distractions of daily life by breaking down tasks one at a time.
  • Holistic diet can have a significant impact on hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention.
  • Meditation and self-reflection are transferable skills that help teens continue to manage their emotions on their own.