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Yes, ADHD Can Cause Anger—Here’s How to Cope

Updated: April 16, 2024

5 min.

People with ADHD often struggle with emotional regulation, which can manifest as anger.

By: Ethan Cohen BSN, RN

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

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Table of Contents

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often depicted as a condition affecting a person’s ability to pay attention or complete tasks, but its impact on emotions is often overlooked. ADHD affects a person’s ability to manage an emotional outburst — especially as related to anger. In fact, research shows that the vast majority of adults (70%) with ADHD report problems managing their emotions or with anger management. For children, the prevalence rises to 80%. 

Below, we dig into ADHD anger — it’s triggers, causes, and treatments, including mental health and anger management for an ADHD child or those living with adult ADHD.

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The link between ADHD and anger  

At the center of the relationship between ADHD and anger is a person’s difficulty managing their emotions, which is known as emotional dysregulation. While emotional dysregulation is not unique to ADHD and is common in many other mental health disorders, it is important to highlight this connection because, as mentioned above, most people focus primarily on the hyperarousal and inattentiveness that comes with an ADHD diagnosis.

It is also important to consider the frustration that can arise from living with the untreated symptoms of ADHD. It is easy to understand how having difficulty in completing daily tasks, struggling to pay attention to information that may be important, or not being able to stay focused while in conversation with others can create a situation in which a person is constantly fighting against the odds, causing anger. 

Also, ADHD often co-occurs with other mental health disorders that make it harder to manage emotions like anger. Commonly linked disorders include anxiety, depression, and some behavioral disorders, like oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder, research shows. Not everyone with ADHD also has another mental health issue or behavior disorder, but when they do, it can make irritability and anger worse. 

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Tips for Young People with ADHD

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What can trigger anger in people with ADHD? 

People with ADHD may experience anger triggered by various factors. Here are some possible triggers of anger and emotional dysregulation in people with ADHD:

  • Frustration with tasks: Difficulty focusing or completing tasks can lead to frustration and, consequently, become an anger trigger.
  • Sensory overload: People with ADHD may be more sensitive to sensory stimuli such as noise, light, or touch, which can overwhelm them and lead to frustration or anger.
  • Rejection or criticism: Rejection or criticism, whether real or perceived, can trigger feelings of inadequacy and provoke anger (when severe, this may become rejection sensitive dysphoria). 
  • Feeling overwhelmed: ADHD often comes with difficulties in organization and time management, leading to overwhelming feelings that can manifest as anger.
  • Changes in routine: People with ADHD may struggle with transitions or changes in routine, which can cause frustration and anger.
  • Co-existing conditions: Conditions such as anxiety or depression commonly co-occur with ADHD and can exacerbate ADHD anger symptoms.

What causes anger and emotional dysregulation in people with ADHD?

In addition to some of the triggers mentioned above, factors intrinsic to ADHD can cause anger and emotional dysregulation in people with the condition. Specifically, research shows that several areas of the brain associated with emotional regulation and impulse control show differences for people with ADHD compared to those without the condition.

Student with ADHD having trouble focusing

Also, according to some experts, the ADHD brain communicates differently than the brain of people without ADHD. Specifically, the connection between the amygdala, which is linked to emotion, and the cerebral cortex, which helps manage emotional responses, may be weaker for some people with ADHD. This weak connection may cause emotional reactions that seem out of sync with their cause, difficulties calming down once an intense emotion has taken hold, and seeming insensitive to, or unaware of, the emotions of others.

Managing anger caused by ADHD

Managing anger and emotional dysregulation in ADHD requires a comprehensive approach tailored to individual needs. While treatments for ADHD primarily aim to improve attention, addressing emotional symptoms presents unique challenges. Collaborating with mental health professionals, such as those at Charlie Health, can significantly enhance treatment outcomes. Also, identifying ADHD symptoms and seeking professional help are crucial steps in managing ADHD-related emotional challenges since untreated symptoms can significantly impact self-esteem and social functioning. Below are some effective ADHD treatment options: 

Counseling

Regular counseling sessions with a qualified therapist provide individuals with ADHD opportunities to explore emotional triggers, develop coping strategies and emotion regulation skills, and improve self-awareness. Behavioral interventions, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), equip individuals with ADHD with tools to recognize and modify negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to emotional dysregulation.

Medication

Prescribed medications can help alleviate ADHD symptoms, including emotional dysregulation. Consultation with a healthcare provider is essential to determine the most suitable medication and dosage.

Parent training

Empowering parents with strategies to support and manage their child's ADHD symptoms can improve family dynamics and reduce emotional challenges. Understanding ADHD and its impact on emotions and behavior is essential for both people with ADHD and their support networks. Education helps build empathy, reduces stigma, and fosters effective communication.

Skills training 

While not a replacement for professional mental health support, learning practical skills, such as time management and organizational techniques, can enhance executive functioning and emotional regulation for people with ADHD. Emotional regulation skills may also be a part of this training or be taught during therapy. 

Educational support

Also, educational interventions tailored to accommodate ADHD-related challenges in learning environments can reduce stress and frustration, thus mitigating emotional outbursts.

How Charlie Health can help

If you or your loved one has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that’s causing anger or other mental health issues, Charlie Health may be able to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with serious mental health conditions, including child and young adult ADHD that co-occurs with mental health issues. Our expert clinicians incorporate evidence-based therapies, including neurodivergent-affirming therapy, into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic treatment, managing ADHD and anger is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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