Why is ADHD in teens often misdiagnosed and why are medications described so often?

Why is ADHD in teens often misdiagnosed and why are medications described so often?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a commonly diagnosed in children. Despite extensive research, doctors are still unable to pinpoint the causes of ADHD. There are also ongoing debates and challenges regarding its accurate diagnosis due to the absence of a pathognomonic marker for ADHD.

Accurate diagnosis of the disorder is crucial as children and teens with ADHD face a heightened risk of academic challenges, increased likelihood of substance use, higher risk of car accidents, and other psychiatric conditions.

The physical and psychological impacts of ADHD go beyond childhood and continues throughout adulthood. This can potentially affect health, education, and overall well-being.

Therefore, it is crucial to diagnose and treat ADHD to mitigate these risks. However, there is also significant concern regarding the possibility of overdiagnosis and subsequent unnecessary medication, which can lead to potential side effects.

This article discusses the current issues surrounding ADHD in teens, focusing on the potential for misdiagnosis and overmedication.

Key factors why ADHD is often misdiagnosed in teens

There are many factors that can contribute to the misdiagnosis of ADHD in teens.

Age-related factors

Medical professionals sometimes misdiagnose ADHD in children based on their age. For instance, children who start school at a younger age often receive an ADHD diagnosis more frequently than those who begin later. To illustrate, if ADHD diagnosis is carried out in children aged 5 and 6, there is a chance of ADHD being misdiagnosed, given the age gap.


Research suggests that boys are diagnosed with ADHD more often than girls, with a ratio ranging from 3:1 to 9:1. This is because girls typically show more signs of inattention. In contrast, boys tend to exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity.

Mood disorders

Mood disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, and dysthymia may be misunderstood as indications of ADHD. Some other symptoms of mood disorders similar to those of ADHD include:

  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty in sleeping

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), can also show symptoms that are similar to those of ADHD. These include:

  • Fidgeting or restlessness
  • Struggling with social interactions and social skills
  • Becoming frustrated or upset often
  • Difficulty in making eye contact
  • Difficulty empathizing with others
  • Delayed speaking or not speaking
  • repeating certain phrases frequently

Anxiety disorders

People with severe anxiety disorders often feel constantly anxious, having panic attacks or phobias. Like autism, some symptoms of anxiety disorders can be similar to ADHD, such as:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Fidgeting
  • Struggle with social skills
  • Become tired quickly

Sleeping difficulties

Sleep disorders, such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), can present symptoms similar to ADHD. These include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Decreased performance at school or work

Auditory processing disorder (APD)

Aud processing disorder (APD) is when individuals fail to understand spoken words correctly. Symptoms may be similar to resemble ADHD and can include:

  • Difficulty listening in noisy environments
  • Difficulty following verbal instructions
  • Requesting others to repeat speech, which can be mistaken for hearing difficulties
  • Struggles in receiving verbal information


Celiac disease can manifest with symptoms resembling ADHD, including irritability and behavioral problems. Additionally, both allergies and celiac disease can produce symptoms similar to ADHD. In children, celiac disease can lead to irritability and behavioral issues, while in adults, it may result in fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

There are various other conditions that can present symptoms resembling ADHD, including:

  • Learning disorders
  • Visual impairments
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Abnormal blood pressure levels

In all the above, a licensed professional is needed to diagnose the condition accurately.

Treating ADHD in Teens

The treatment of ADHD is similar in teens and adults and includes medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, or a combination of all.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are widely recognized as an effective therapy for managing ADHD symptoms. Essential oils can also be used as a complementary option.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) facilitates an ADHD on how they perceive themselves and encourages them to act on their newly discovered emotions and feelings. According to CBT, ADHD patients can overcome their problems by altering the way their perception of a situation and subsequently the way they behave.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of CBT as a treatment for ADHD. A 2016 study revealed that CBT is a viable solution for improving ADHD symptoms that do not respond to medication.

Another 2018 study established that CBT effectively reduces ADHD symptoms, alleviates feelings of depression and anxiety, and enhances executive function.


Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) encourages ADHD patients to embrace their present status and their innate desire for change. DBT for ADHD empowers individuals to accept and cope with their current circumstances, emotions, and self. According to DBT, by acquiring new skills, one can bring positive transformations into their lives by replacing destructive behaviors with healthier ones.

The efficacy of DBT in treating ADHD is still being discussed and available results indicate that this therapy can help in regulating emotions and addressing impulsive behaviors and actions.

A 2017 study concluded that DBT, when combined with other therapeutic approaches, can be effective in reducing ADHD symptoms.

Essential oils for ADHD

After CBT and DBT, essential oils are referred to as an alternative treatment for ADHD. But, there are many conflicting reports about this matter. However, several studies have revealed the utilizing oils like lavender and chamomile has the potential to alleviate symptoms of ADHD in children.

Which ADHD therapy is better?

Medical professionals are yet to fully determine the effectiveness of CBT and DBT as treatments for ADHD as there is limited research on the issue. Therefore, we can’t really tell which ADHD treatment is better than the other. However, existing studies suggest that CBT may offer greater benefits, potentially due to the larger number of studies conducted on its effectiveness compared to DBT.

Why are teens prescribed medications treating ADHD in teens?

Compared to adults, teens lead  more turbulent lives, and they often find it more challenging in managing their ADHD symptoms. Teens have to deal with studies, peer  pressures and future worries, all of which can be enhanced by the presence of ADHD.

ADHD medications can help them remain stable and focused in addition to taking psychological treatments like DBT and CBT.

Another reason, why teens are often prescribed ADHD medications more often is because DBT and CBT are a long-term treatment processes and the process can take weeks of therapy before tangible results are seen. Moreover, psychiatrists often recommend ADHD patients to take both forms of treatment for the best results.

Medications offer an instant solution in these cases and help teens gain control over their mental health faster. Medications like Adderall and Ritalin are typically prescribed to teens with ADHD. These medications can help improve concentration, reduce impulsive and hyperactive behavior, and promote emotional stability.

Another reason, teens are taking ADHD medications is to improve academic performance, specifically to increase concentration, and to stay up longer and study.

But this has questions of stimulant abuse, which can have serious health complications.  In recent years, an increasing number of middle and high school students are misusing their ADHD medications. A study by the University of Michigan has concluded that one in four students is abusing their ADHD drugs.

Long-term misuse of stimulants can be addictive and can cause serious health problems. Although these drugs may temporarily enhance focus and improve alertness, the perceived side effects outstrip any potential benefits.

Therefore, we advise to take these medications under the guidance of a healthcare professional and not exceed their recommended dosages.

ADHD is not only common in teens, but also prevalent in children and adults. The diagnosis can be challenging, and sometimes it can be difficult to accurately determine its symptoms as they can be seen in other mental and psychological conditions. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are two of the most commonly used therapeutic approaches for managing ADHD symptoms. However, medication, essential oils, and making lifestyle changes can also help especially for teens.

Last but not least, It is important to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional to determine the best course of treatment to manage ADHD.


I am a pop culture and social media expert. Aside from writing about the latest news health, I also enjoy pop culture and Yoga. I have BA in American Cultural Studies and currently enrolled in a Mass-Media MA program. I like to spend my spring breaks volunteering overseas.

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