Some adults living with ADHD may be more aggressive than others. But recognizing your triggers and other coping strategies may help manage your symptoms.
People who have attention hyperactivity deficit disorder (ADHD) may be more prone to anger issues, violent tendencies, and aggressive behaviors due to several factors.
Understanding the possible connection between ADHD and violent or aggressive behavior can help you navigate this mental health condition and manage your moods.
A causal relationship between having ADHD and being violent doesn’t really exist. But some people living with ADHD exhibit more aggressive behaviors compared to individuals who don’t have this condition.
It’s important to keep in mind there are three types of ADHD:
Violent or aggressive behaviors may be more likely to occur in the hyperactive or combined ADHD types compared to the ADHD inattentive subtype.
According to a 2013 study, males with childhood ADHD are more likely to be violent and verbally aggressive with romantic partners compared to males without a history of ADHD or conduct problems.
“Adults with ADHD show an increase in violent or angry outbursts and even an increase in criminal behavior,” says Alex Dimitriu, MD, a board certified psychiatrist and sleep medicine doctor and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in California.
In addition, a 2010 study suggests that ADHD may be associated with violent behaviors within the forensic population. The study shows that people diagnosed with ADHD may exhibit higher rates of “reactive-impulse violence.” Impulsivity and heightened reactions are often associated with hyperactivity, a subtype of ADHD psychopathology.
The study also shows that men may be more likely to exhibit “proactive violence,” which is goal-directed violent behavior. Both childhood ADHD and current ADHD diagnoses increase the risk of violent behaviors as well.
According to Dimitriu, people who have ADHD tend to react more intensely, but may not be as “proactive” when it comes to initiating violence.
Many people who live with ADHD exhibit impulsivity, which could offer some explanation as to why aggression and violence may be more common among those with this condition.
“People with ADHD feel more intensely than the rest of us, [and] their moods can rapidly and intensely shift during the day,” Dimitriu says. “ADHD makes people more reactive and impulsive, so sometimes actions result without much thought or consideration, and this is where people get into trouble.”
Dimitriu adds that people diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, or bipolar disorder may be perceived as being more intense, which could be conflated with aggression.
Renee Rosales, MEd, founder and CEO of Theara Way in Flagstaff, Arizona, lives with ADHD and says that folks with ADHD can have a hard time managing intense emotions like anger.
She explains this is because people who have ADHD are more likely to experience heightened emotions, which can make it challenging to calm down or express their feelings in healthy ways.
A lack of anger management skills could lead to outbursts or anger issues.
“This can be dangerous for all people, especially adults because we’re bigger, stronger, and more likely to do significant harm to a person,” Rosales says.
People with ADHD may experience emotional outbursts, anger issues, or violent tendencies.
“Emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, violence, anger, and aggression are connected to people [who have] ADHD,” Rosales says, adding that difficulty with focusing and managing moods can be frustrating.
While symptoms such as emotional dysregulation are common in ADHD, Rosales adds they may also be symptoms of other mental health conditions.
For more guidance on how to manage your moods and emotions, you may wish to speak with a healthcare or mental health professional.
If you live with ADHD and frequently experience anger, aggression, or violence, there are a few ways to manage your symptoms.
Rosales recommends the following coping strategies to help folks with ADHD manage their emotions:
- recognize your triggers and pay attention to what upsets or frustrates you
- work to avoid or learn how to cope more effectively when you enter frustrating situations
- ask your doctor about ADHD medication to help manage your symptoms
Healthy lifestyle choices
Dimitriu recommends a regimen called “SEMM” for folks with ADHD and other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. He says that SEMM — which stands for sleep, exercise, Mediterranean diet, and meditation — may be helpful for reducing ADHD symptoms such as impulsivity.
While there isn’t any research on SEMM specifically, studies have shown that aspects of the protocol may be beneficial for adults living with ADHD.
Whether you live with ADHD or not, a good night’s rest is beneficial for brain health. In fact, research from 2021 shows that a lack of sleep may be associated with ADHD, which could impact executive functioning in waking hours and make it harder to focus.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that regular exercise is good for you, but it may also be beneficial for mental health conditions such as ADHD. For instance, research from 2017 shows that exercise benefits children and adults with ADHD by:
- improving mood
- controlling impulses
- helping with focus
- improving social skills
Dimitriu says that meditation is an essential skill that helps folks avoid reacting to stimuli.
Although a 2019 review suggests that mindfulness meditation training may improve executive function and emotional dysregulation in adults with ADHD, more high quality research is needed.
We’ve all heard the adage “we are what we eat,” and there are plenty of science-backed benefits to following a Mediterranean diet.
For folks with ADHD, a 2022 case study suggests that adherence to a Mediterranean diet — which may be beneficial for mental health — may decrease the onset of ADHD in children. But the study didn’t determine whether a Mediterranean diet had an impact on impulsivity or emotional dysregulation and suggested that further evidence is still needed.
For more advice on managing ADHD impulsivity, you may wish to read our tips to manage impulses. You might also connect with a mental health professional for personalized help to manage your anger, aggression, or violent tendencies.
Folks with ADHD may tend to be impulsive or angry, but they’re not always violent.
ADHD doesn’t directly lead to violence or aggression among those who live with this condition, but some people diagnosed with ADHD may be more violent due to symptoms like emotional dysregulation and impulsivity.
Dimitriu describes intensity as a two-sided coin: “On one end can be rage, anger, and even violence,” he says. “On the other end can be brilliance, passion, and insightful thinking that’s naturally out of the box.”
Managing ADHD intensity may help prevent unwanted consequences. You can do this by:
- ADHD medication
- improving your sleep quality
- recognizing and avoiding triggers
- learning coping strategies
Remember that help and support are available. A healthcare or mental health professional can develop a personalized treatment plan to help you manage your ADHD symptoms.
“ADHD can be a complex condition to live with but don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and seek out what works for you,” Rosales says.