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What to know about ADHD and anger in adults
Understanding attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anger in adults can help a person manage symptoms, reduce the impact of ADHD on their relationships, and reduce the risk of high-risk behaviors.
Anger is not on the official list of ADHD symptoms. However, many adults with ADHD struggle with anger, especially impulsive, angry outbursts. Triggers can include frustration, impatience, and even low self-esteem.
A number of prevention tips may help adults with ADHD manage anger as a symptom.
Keep reading to learn more about ADHD and anger, including the causes, triggers, and how to manage the condition.
Several studies have found a link between ADHD symptoms and anger.
A 2014 study of college students found that more ADHD symptoms correlated with more state and trait anger. State anger refers to brief bursts of anger, such as when encountering a reckless driver. Trait anger is a personality that tends toward anger.
A 2020 study that compared adults with ADHD to those without the diagnosis found that 50.2% of adults with ADHD had frequent emotional fluctuations, compared to just 5% of those without ADHD. Adults with ADHD who reported feeling angry as children were more likely to report frequent mood fluctuations.
This suggests a link between mood fluctuations and anger. It also suggests that the anger of adult ADHD may begin in childhood.
Some reasons why ADHD may make a person angry include:
- Poor impulse control: ADHD affects executive function, which is the brains ability to regulate emotions, plan activities, and control impulses. People with ADHD may have more trouble calming themselves when they feel angry, or may engage in more impulsive expressions of anger.
- Frustration with the symptoms of ADHD: The symptoms of ADHD can make it difficult to concentrate at work or school. Some people with ADHD may become frustrated because of this. Several studies have found a correlation between more ADHD symptoms and more inappropriate expressions of anger.
- Attention difficulties: A 2018 study of 70 adults with ADHD found that shifting attention correlated with more trait anger. This suggests that the attention challenges of ADHD may contribute to anger. This is possibly because inattentiveness can be frustrating, or because it can cause a person to feel distracted by things that make them angry.
- Relationship difficulties: Research on college students, published in 2014, found higher rates of social impairments in students with ADHD. These social skills difficulties can make it difficult to form meaningful relationships and manage conflict, potentially triggering anger.
Triggers vary from person to person. It can help if a person keeps a log of anger triggers, because this empowers a person to investigate why something triggers their anger and gain better control over the reaction. Some common triggers for ADHD-related anger include:
- frustration and impatience, such as when a person has to wait on hold or in a line.
- impulsive behavior, such as when a person momentarily feels anger and overreacts.
- memory and attention issues, which may cause a person to focus on a fleeting emotion, giving it too much power.
- social and relationship issues, especially feelings of rejection or disapproval.
- the consequences of planning issues and missed deadlines, such as not turning in a work project or getting in trouble for a missed deadline.
- low self-esteem.
How to manage ADHD related anger
ADHD is a medical condition, which means a person cannot just think their way out of its symptoms. The right combination of treatments can make it much easier to manage anger. Some options include:
- ADHD stimulant medications.
- antidepressants and antianxiety medications for depression and anxiety, sometimes as an alternative to stimulants.
- seeking accommodations at work and school, such as a distraction-free environment or more time to complete projects.
- anger management classes.
- social skills classes.
- anger management therapy, including individual counseling, relationship counseling, and family counseling cognitive behavioral training programs that teach people with ADHD skills to manage their emotions and achieve their goals.
Some strategies that can help a person deal with their anger include:
- Put the anger in context: If a person suddenly feels a wave of anger, avoid ruminating on the anger or feeding it. Instead, acknowledge the emotion and move onto the next emotion.
- Try a visualization exercise: Imagine the anger compartmentalized in a box, then slowly breathe out all of the anger.
- Practice a helpful response to anger: The right approach varies from person to person, but some people find help from deep breathing or meditation. The more a person practices, the easier this can get. Try taking 10 deep breaths in response to anger until the response becomes automatic.
- Commit to delaying reacting until a person feels calm: For many people with ADHD, the impulsive behavior anger causes is very destructive and can lead to even more anger. Even if a person cannot control their emotions, they can control their reactions.
- Practice assertive alternatives to angry outbursts: Anger is a normal human emotion, and it is normal to feel angry in response to injustice, maltreatment, and frustration. Identifying anger triggers can help a person practice assertive responses.
Some strategies that can help prevent anger and impulsive angry outbursts include:
- Seeking anger management services to better understand and manage anger. An Anger Management Specialist can help with identifying specific anger triggers and adopting healthier coping mechanisms.
- Walking away from situations that induce anger. If a driver cuts a person off in traffic or a receptionist says something rude, do not engage.
- Acknowledging that anger is a valid, normal human emotion. Do not waste time getting angry at oneself for being angry.
- Talking about frustration, relationship problems, and other issues when a person is feeling calm. Try asking for a 20-minute time-out during a fight with a spouse, then return to the issue only when both parties feel calmer.
Other similar symptoms of ADHD
Doctors identify ADHD based on a tendency toward inattention, trouble concentrating, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Some symptoms of ADHD correlate more closely with anger. They include:
- Impulsive behavior: People with ADHD may have trouble controlling their impulses, causing them to act in socially inappropriate ways when they feel anger.
- Hyperactivity: People with ADHD often have trouble sitting still. They can feel easily bored, interrupt conversations frequently, or struggle to listen in quiet settings. These impulses may make them feel angry or frustrated.
- Forgetfulness and inattention: Adults and children with ADHD may both struggle with missed deadlines, managing time, and keeping up with their responsibilities. The chronic frustration of forgetting to pay bills, losing keys, and other daily challenges may make a person feel angry.
People who have ADHD and anger should know that they are not alone, and that their symptoms may be related to their diagnosis.
The right combination of treatment and social support can help.
Do not try to fix it alone. Mental health support can ease anger and prevent the destruction it causes.
…written by Zawn Villines