Pharmacological and psychosocial treatments for adolescents with ADHD: an updated systematic review of the literature

Clin Psychol Rev. 2014 Apr;34(3):218-32. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2014.02.001. Epub 2014 Feb 27.


Smith, Waschbusch, Willoughby, and Evans (2000) reviewed a small treatment literature on ADHD in adolescents and concluded that methylphenidate stimulant medication was a well-established treatment and behavior therapy (BT) demonstrated preliminary efficacy. This review extends and updates the findings of the prior one based on the previous 15years of research. Studies published since 1999 were identified and coded using standard criteria and effect sizes were calculated where appropriate. Highlights of the last 15years of research include an expansion of pharmacological treatment options and developmentally appropriate psychosocial treatment packages for adolescents with ADHD. Additionally, nonstimulant medications (e.g., atomoxetine) are now approved for the treatment of ADHD in adolescence. The review concludes that medication and BT produce a similar range of therapeutic effects on the symptoms of adolescents with ADHD. However, results suggest that BT may produce greater overall benefits on measures of impairment. There was no evidence that cognitive enhancement trainings, such as working memory training or neurofeedback improved the functioning of adolescents with ADHD. Whether to use medication, BT, or their combination to treat an adolescent with ADHD is complicated and we provide evidence-informed guidelines for treatment selection. The reviewed evidence does not support current American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry professional guidelines, which state that stimulant medication is the preferred treatment for adolescents with ADHD. Recommendations for assessment, practice guidelines, and future research are discussed.

Keywords: ADHD; Adolescence; Behavior therapy; Stimulant medication.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Atomoxetine Hydrochloride
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / drug therapy
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / therapy*
  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / therapeutic use*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Humans
  • Methylphenidate / therapeutic use*
  • Propylamines / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Propylamines
  • Methylphenidate
  • Atomoxetine Hydrochloride