At a glance
Teens with ADHD are more likely to engage in risky behaviors than other teens.
ADHD symptoms like impulsivity and trouble with emotions can lead to risky behavior.
Risk-taking shows up in different ways.
Teens are at an age when they naturally start to become more independent. But they may not always make the best choices — especially teens with ADHD. In general, they’re more likely to engage in risky behavior than other teens.
At first glance, it may seem like they’re just being difficult or rebellious. Often, that’s not the case. Common symptoms of ADHD, like impulsivity and trouble with social skills, can make teens more likely to take risks. So can low self-esteem and immaturity.
Risk-taking shows up in different ways. Here are five examples of how teens with ADHD may engage in risky behavior.
1. Acting out at school.
For some teens with ADHD, being disruptive or breaking rules isn’t always intentional. Teens with ADHD may be late to class often and interrupt lectures. Sometimes this behavior is the result of poor impulse control.
But they may also knowingly act out, especially to fit in socially. For example, they might take school property on a dare. Or they may skip classes often to hang out with friends. The price for that behavior can be steep. Teens with ADHD are expelled from school at a rate two-and-a-half times that of teens who don’t have ADHD.
2. Driving dangerously.
ADHD is often linked with dangerous and distracted driving. Poor impulse control may cause teens to drive too fast. And inattention may cause them to daydream instead of paying attention to the road. Teens with ADHD have a higher rate of car accidents, speeding tickets, and getting their license suspended or revoked than teens without ADHD.
3. Having unprotected sex.
Studies have found that teens with ADHD may start having sex at a younger age and with more sexual partners. One study found that teens with ADHD were less likely to use contraception. And that teens with ADHD are more likely to have a teenage pregnancy.
4. Abusing substances.
Teens with ADHD may be more likely to abuse substances like alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine — and to become dependent on them. This may be due to poor impulse control. Or it may be an effort to improve their attention span or deal with frustrations at school.
5. Running into legal trouble.
It’s not yet clear if ADHD can be tied to criminal behavior. But early studies have shown that teens with ADHD are more likely to go to juvenile court than teens who don’t have ADHD. Studies haven’t considered traumatic experiences that may result in behavior trouble.
Learn more about risky behavior and ADHD.