Story by Rosanna Castro
Researchers at FIU’s Center for Children and Families are looking to help teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) make better decisions.
They are actively recruiting participants for one of the first substance-use prevention programs in the U.S. designed for adolescents with ADHD. The goal is to help teens successfully transition into adulthood by reducing risky behaviors. Dubbed the ATLAS Project, the program is led by center director William E. Pelham, Jr. and researcher Nicole Schatz.
“With increasing independence and responsibilities, adolescence can be a particularly challenging time for youth with ADHD,” Pelham said. “It is of great importance to provide early substance use prevention and intervention for teens with ADHD before they may develop problems with drugs and alcohol.”
Since adolescents with ADHD tend to try substances at younger ages, they escalate to regular use more quickly, and they are more likely to develop substance use disorders, Pelham said. Prior research shows approximately 20 percent of adolescents have tried alcohol by the time they reach 8th grade. By 12th grade, 61 percent have tried alcohol and 48 percent have tried marijuana or other drugs.
Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the ATLAS Project is evaluating the most effective strategies to help teens make healthy decisions about the relationships with their parents, teachers and friends, about homework and studying, and about alcohol or drug use.
Eligible teens ages 12 to 16 receive five free counseling sessions. Clinicians will help them identify goals that may include getting better grades or getting along better with family and/or friends. In collaboration with their clinician, teens map out a plan to reach their goals, leveraging the skills and strategies learned during sessions, which include problem-solving, coping with difficult emotions, resisting peer pressure and considering the potential impact of substance use on their goals.
These sessions also give teens an opportunity to share their goals with their parents for support. Adolescents are monitored throughout the study to see whether the sessions are helpful. Some families may receive additional sessions as needed.
Parents who would like to learn more or find out if their teen is eligible to participate, may call 305-348-3891 or fill out this contact form.