If you live with ADHD, you may experience more intense emotions such as anger. But there are strategies that can help you cope with this feeling.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental difference. It can affect the way a person thinks and behaves.
Anger is an emotion that seldom exists in isolation in ADHD but rather might have an underlying cause, such as emotional dysregulation.
ADHD is a lifelong condition that impacts almost every aspect of life. The challenges it creates can inspire a myriad of emotions that may resemble anger.
If you live with ADHD and have trouble managing intense emotions such as anger, there are techniques you can try to help you cope.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) doesn’t list anger as part of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD.
But emotional dysregulation, or heightened emotions, does occur in about 70% of adults with ADHD, some of whom have no other mental health conditions, according to a
Anger may also be a part of other mental health conditions that can co-occur with ADHD. A
The conditions often associated with ADHD include:
Emotional dysregulation can occur when a person has difficulty modifying their emotions to align with their goals.
For example, your goal might be to improve your workplace professionalism. But if job frustrations or interpersonal dynamics throw you off track, emotional dysregulation might be the reason.
Emotional dysregulation by itself isn’t a condition, but it can be connected to other conditions.
It also affects children with ADHD, according to a
Emotional dysregulation makes ADHD harder to manage in areas such as:
- peer relationships
- academic performance
- family life
- career growth
It can also affect emotions other than anger, including anxiety and depression.
People with ADHD can seem unfocused, restless, and impulsive. But when emotional dysregulation is part of their profile, there are additional signs such as:
- impatience with stress
- surges of anger in response to small obstacles
- explosive bursts of anger
- episodes of frustration
- lack of awareness about other people’s feelings
They may overreact to everyday things, and you might feel like you’re walking on eggshells when you’re around them.
Aggression is escalated anger intended to cause immediate harm. A
Aggression may be associated with:
- reduced cognitive control
- emotional dysregulation
- lowered inhibition control
- response to a social threat
People experiencing aggression may not be thinking clearly. This means that no matter what you say or do, they may continue to act out. Aggression isn’t something you can stop or control.
The person experiencing aggression often needs space and time to calm down, while you prioritize safety.
Aggressive children might:
- pull hair
- throw objects
It’s crucial to remember that during aggressive episodes, children experience overwhelming emotions. They’re not “misbehaving” but rather unable to control their emotions.
Teen hormones can increase the impact of ADHD and sometimes lead to impulsive aggressive behavior. The signs in teens may not be physical.
They may instead:
- insult peers
- shout at family members
- threaten harm to self or others
- participate in teasing or bullying
- engage in lying or gossip
- spread rumors
- maintain social status with manipulation
It can be tricky to tell the difference between abuse and aggression in adults, but there are clear differences.
Abuse involves power or control. It usually exists in a relationship of some type and is often hidden.
Non-abusive aggression is a brief loss of control in response to a trigger. It can happen anywhere in any circumstance, with little or no effort made to conceal it.
If you’re experiencing anger and ADHD, there are strategies you can try to manage this emotion.
- Try to relax. Learning relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness and breathing exercises, may help you stop anger in its tracks.
- Change negative thinking. Thoughts lead to emotions, which can influence behavior. If you can pinpoint the negative thoughts that make you angry, you can try to replace them with positive ones.
- Solve problems. Does traffic upset you? Try a different route. You may not be able to solve all the problems in your day but eliminating some can lessen stress.
- Improve communication. If you ask for clarification instead of jumping to conclusions, you might find yourself angry less often.
- Create space. Taking a break from an upsetting situation may help you regain control of your emotions.
Self-care strategies may not work well enough for everyone. It’s natural to need support sometimes.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can offer a safe space for you to discuss your concerns and learn tools to help manage them.
The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy, as an effective strategy for anger management.
CBT can help change the unhelpful thought patterns that may lead to unwanted behaviors.
If you take medication for your ADHD, consider asking your doctor whether it can affect mood and if another medication might be best for you and your needs.
A 2017 review suggests that amphetamine derivatives such as Adderall may be connected to increased irritability in children with ADHD, and methylphenidate derivatives such as Ritalin may help reduce irritability.
While there are limited studies about the effects of these medications in adults with ADHD, they typically experience the same effects seen in children with ADHD.
It can be helpful to know how to deal with an angry person. Here are some tips you can use:
- Practice active listening. Feeling ignored can trigger anger in people with emotional dysregulation.
- Identify triggers. It can help to pinpoint what preceded the emotional outburst so that you can avoid the trigger in the future.
- See if you can help. The person experiencing the upset might have an issue that you could help solve.
- Listen with empathy. Being heard can sometimes calm a person who’s feeling angry.
- See the big picture. Sometimes a person can react with anger because there are other issues bothering them. It might not even be about you.
If aggression is posing a risk to your safety, seek immediate help. Try to leave immediately or call 911 if possible.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers resources and safety plans. Also, the following Psych Central pages have more tips and useful information:
- How to Leave an Abusive Relationship and Not Go Back
- How to Deal with Abuse
- How to Deal with Domestic Violence
Even if you don’t feel like there’s a risk to your physical safety, you can still access support to manage any stress and anger you may be experiencing.
Not sure where to start? You can try Psych Central’s hub for finding mental health support.
Anger is not a part of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, but it can be a condition trait in some people.
Although not everyone who lives with ADHD experiences anger, the two can be connected. ADHD symptoms and emotional dysregulation can prompt angry outbursts in some people.
Coexisting conditions that may accompany ADHD can also increase the chance of ADHD anger outbursts.
ADHD is treatable with medication and therapy, both of which can also help with anger issues.
If you live with ADHD, there is support available, including: