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What Does ADHD Look Like in High School and College-Aged Kids?

What Does ADHD Look Like in High School and College-Aged Kids?

Focus is something we all need to accomplish big and small tasks in all areas of our lives...and it’s something we often take for granted. But for teenagers and college students struggling with attention issues, it can seem like an insurmountable hurdle that keeps them from accomplishing daily tasks and reaching their goals.

Symptoms of ADHD in high school and college students

There are three primary types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive and combination.

Inattentive: People who battle inattentive ADHD have a difficult time focusing. It’s hard to remember conversations and recall details. Activities that require sustained attention such as reading or listening to a lecture are especially difficult.

Hyperactive-impulsive: This form of ADHD is characterized by fidgetiness, impulsivity and high energy. People dealing with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD may talk out of turn, talk nonstop or be unable to sit or stand still.

Combined: When a person has several characteristics of both ADHD types, they have “combined ADHD or ADHD-C.

When a teenager deals with ADHD, their symptoms can manifest in any or all of these ways, more so than their peers:

  • Impulsivity or poor decision making
  • Lack of focus
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Self-focused behavior
  • Forgetfulness or disorganization
  • Fidgeting and hyperactive behavior
  • Heightened emotionality and depression

Why is ADHD exacerbated during the teenage years?

The teenage years are challenging for even the most mature, level-headed teens. The onslaught of peer pressure, hormonal changes and higher-level academics coupled with a desire for greater independence can lead to turbulent times.

Then, when you factor ADHD into the equation, normal challenges are exacerbated.

  • Teens who already feel “different” from their peers may battle even greater insecurity issues than their peers during these challenging years. This can result in teens neglecting their ADHD meds or disengaging from helpful coping mechanisms. Other teens may try to mask their growing insecurity with alcohol or drugs or by acting out for attention.
  • Natural impulsive teenage behavior is often compounded by ADHD. This can manifest as reckless behavior behind the wheel, in sexual relationships and with alcohol or drugs.
  • An increase in the academic demand of high school and college can hamper already-weak executive skills. Executive skills are important for success across all facets of life.

Executive skills include working memory, goal-oriented-ness, emotional control, sustained attention, planning and time management.

How does ADHD impact teenage life?

The effects of ADHD touch many aspects of a teen’s life.


Teens with ADHD can have a more difficult time paying attention to class lectures, buckling down and completing coursework and reading books and other course materials. Consequently, these students are less likely than their peers to receive high school or college diplomas.


Because of difficulty with memory, impulsive behavior and extreme emotions, maintaining healthy friendships and dating relationships during the teenage years can be challenging.


Searching for a job requires the ability to set a goal and the motivation to walk through the process towards achieving it. Excellent interpersonal skills are necessary for interview success. Focus and a long-term vision are necessary to fulfill job responsibilities and maintain employment. Many teens with ADHD struggle in the job search and interview processes, switch jobs frequently and often find themselves unemployed.

Additionally, drug and alcohol abuse is more prevalent among teens with ADHD. Studies consistently point to more frequent and greater alcohol consumption and 2.5-6x more frequent drug use than their peers. In turn, substance abuse makes it more difficult for students to achieve academic success, maintain healthy relationships and hold a job.

Are you concerned that ADHD is making learning more difficult for your teen? LearningRx helps students who struggle with ADHD by boosting weak cognitive skills to make learning easier. Learn more on our website or contact us here!

Keyword: ADHD