Questions Teens Ask about ADHD

By Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. & John J. Ratey, M.D.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a fairly common mental health concern among children and teenagers today. It is readily treated by medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. Here are some commonly asked questions teens have about ADHD, and their answers.

Q: What is ADD?

A: ADD stands for “attention deficit disorder.” It is a neurological syndrome characterized by distractibility, impulsivity, and restlessness. “Neurological” means having to do with the brain and nervous system. ADD is a label for how the brain and nervous system of people with ADD works. People with ADD tend to think quickly and creatively. They are usually smart, intuitive, and full of new ideas and plans. They like to try out new things and they like to have fun. Sometimes they procrastinate, have trouble staying on task, completing projects, or following through on ideas. Sometimes they are hot-tempered, tactless, or loud. Sometimes they underachieve in school or unintentionally disrupt social occasions. All these problems relate to their brain having trouble focusing attention and regulating impulses. The problems do not relate to their being lazy, stubborn, stupid, or subversive. In other words, ADD is not their fault; it is just how their brains are wired. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with having ADD. A lot of great people in history have had ADD, like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison, and many highly successful adults have ADD.

For a young person to have the best chances of success in dealing with ADD, the trick is to get the diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible. It is never too late to treat ADD, however. And with treatment the negative aspects of ADD can usually be contained. This allows the many positive aspects to really flourish. There is no limit to the amount of success an individual with ADD can achieve.

Q: How can I believe this diagnosis is real and not just another way to try to get me to do what my parents want?

A: Look at the scientific evidence. Satisfy yourself. Question your doctor as to how you were diagnosed. Pin him or her down aggressively. Say that you are worried this is all a put-up job. The only way the treatment will ever work is for you to get behind it, and you will never get behind it if you think you are being duped.

Q: I don’t like having to rely on a drug to do my homework. It just doesn’t seem right. Either I can do the work, or I can’t. But to take a pill for it? It almost seems like cheating.

A: Does wearing eyeglasses seem like cheating? There’s really no difference except that in one case you swallow a pill and in the other you wear eyeglasses. Does taking a vitamin seem like cheating? All a vitamin does is replace a chemical that is missing or deficient; that’s exactly what the medication for ADD does.

Q: Some days I take the medicine and feel fine about it. Other days I just want to do it on my own. Problem is, that’s when I screw up. Any advice?

A: Keep taking the medicine as long as it works. Talk with your doctor and your parents about these feelings you have of wanting to do it on your own, but don’t stop the medicine because of them. Don’t feel alone. Most young people feel as you do, especially young men. It becomes an issue of self-reliance. What you have to understand is that you are still doing the work, not the medicine. The medicine won’t read the book for you or write the paper, anymore than another person’s eyeglasses will. The medicine simply makes it possible for you to read the book or write the paper as well as you can. It evens the playing field.

Q: How do you know the medicine isn’t dangerous?

A: Because medical research has given us much information about it, if you’re referring to Ritalin, which is the most common medicine used to treat ADD. But don’t just take my word for it. Ritalin has been studied by hundreds of scientists over decades. It is one of the most thoroughly studied medications we use. What side effects there are&emdash;agitation, appetite suppression, sleep loss&emdash;are easily controlled most of the time. The most annoying side effect is that Ritalin wears off in a few hours, and so you have to remember to take another. Of ominous side effects, growth suppression is probably the worst, and this is reversible by stopping the medicine. It is also very rare. On the whole, Ritalin is an extremely safe, well-investigated medication. Of course, it, like all prescription drugs, should be used only under a doctor’s supervision.

Q: Does the medicine interfere with sex?

A: Stimulant medication can make getting an erection moreÝdifficult. For females, there is no interference. If you plan to have sex, you may plan not to take your medication that evening. The other medications used may, but usually do not, interfere with sexual function. If you have any problem in this sensitive domain, be sure to talk it over with your doctor. If you feel too embarrassed to bring it up, perhaps one of your parents could broach the subject with your doctor for you. Above all, do not rely on rumor and hearsay. There is a lot of damaging misinformation out there about what these medications can do to you. The misinformation I have heard would almost be funny if it weren’t that some kids believe it. So, get professional, informed advice, then make up your own mind.

Q: Should I tell my friends I have ADD or keep it a secret?

A: That is entirely up to you. It is your business. However, my advice is to be open about it if you can. There is nothing to be ashamed of. I myself have announced on national television that I have ADD, and no one has given me a hard time about it.Believe it or not, the biggest barrier is your own feelings, not other people’s. Once you feel OK about having ADD (or any sort of learning disorder), you will find it much easier to tell others. So what’s the big deal? So you have ADD? So what? So did Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin. So does Dustin Hoffman. John Irving has various severe learning disabilities. Not bad company. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Keeping it secret only perpetuates a feeling of shame within yourself.

 

APA Reference
Psych Central. (2011). Questions Teens Ask about ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/questions-teens-ask-about-adhd/00010491
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.