• ADHD is a neurobehavioral disorder that may persist into adulthood.
  • While cognitive symptoms are considered the core of ADHD, this condition may also cause issues with regulating and acting out on emotions.
  • Treatments, including medications and therapies, can help with emotional dysregulation and impulsivity.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral disorder that’s typically first diagnosed in childhood based on symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention.

While symptoms of ADHD can improve with age, the presentation of this condition may appear much differently in adulthood, when hyperactivity usually decreases.

Since about one-third of children retain an official ADHD diagnosis throughout adulthood, it’s important to understand the impacts on all aspects of your mental health. This includes your emotions.

Read on to learn more about the connections between ADHD and emotions in adults, and what you can do to help increase your overall emotional well-being.

Emotional dysregulation is a term that describes a difficulty in regulating everyday emotions or perhaps experiencing extreme emotions on a much deeper level than others. One meta-analysis reported that up to 70% of adults with ADHD experience emotional dysregulation.

But what exactly might this look like in terms of ADHD? According to the Children and Adults with ADHD (CHADD) advocacy group, emotional dysregulation can be considered a form of hyperactivity, where you might experience emotions at such a deep level that they may become overwhelming.

For example, you may experience significant anger or confusion in a given situation that can make you feel overwhelmed. Others might incorrectly perceive such emotions as “irrational,” which can lead to feelings of guilt.

However, emotional dysregulation doesn’t exclusively apply to negative emotions. These difficulties in regulating feelings can also include traditionally positive emotions, such as joy, which can also be so intense that you may feel overwhelmed and exhausted.

Also, emotional dysregulation isn’t exclusive to ADHD. It’s also seen in mental health conditions, such as:

  • anxiety disorders
  • bipolar disorder
  • mood disorders
  • personality disorders
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Knowing the possible causes of emotional dysregulation can help determine whether your symptoms may be related to ADHD, or perhaps another mental health condition — especially if you weren’t previously diagnosed with ADHD as a child.

Emotional impulsivity in ADHD goes hand in hand with emotional dysregulation. Essentially, the intense and overwhelming emotions you might experience could lead to impulsive behavior that you might later regret.

Traditionally, impulsivity is recognized in ADHD via the following traits:

  • a perceived lack of self-control
  • a desire for immediate rewards
  • an inability to wait for gratification
  • making important decisions or actions without considering the possible consequences

Emotional impulsivity, then, describes sudden actions in direct response to an inability to regulate emotions. In children, this may largely be recognized as an inability to take turns when playing games or talking over others.

While adults may also experience such symptoms, signs of emotional impulsivity can become even more problematic in daily life. This can lead to:

  • talking out of turn at school or work
  • inability to collaborate with work peers or within interpersonal relationships
  • saying things out loud before thinking them through
  • mood shifts
  • difficulty coping with stress
  • extreme impatience and a quick temper
  • procrastination as a method of avoidance
  • dangerous behaviors to help cope with emotions, such as substance or alcohol use

Contrary to previous theories, most people don’t outgrow ADHD in adulthood, but rather experience different presentations of this neurobehavioral disorder.

Knowing this can help empower you to seek help as an adult with ADHD if you feel that you’re facing challenges with emotional dysregulation and impulsive behaviors.

Medications for ADHD may help improve your ability to regulate emotions. Some of the options include stimulants and nonstimulant medications, such as antidepressants.

Therapeutic techniques may also help you learn strategies for coping with strong emotions and reducing potentially dangerous impulsive behaviors. Behavioral therapy, for example, can help you recognize emotions and learn strategies to prevent you from acting on them.

Additionally, treating high stress and other symptoms is important in reducing the risk of other possible co-occurring conditions in adults with ADHD, such as:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • substance use disorders
  • relationship difficulties

It’s also important to invest time in daily self-care strategies at home to help you manage stress that could increase the risk of emotional dysregulation and impulsivity. These may include the following:

  • deep breathing or meditation
  • implementing mindfulness techniques
  • daily exercise
  • spending time on a hobby

With ADHD, there’s often an emphasis on the cognitive impacts that could present themselves in everyday life, whether that’s disorganization at home, or difficulty staying on task at work.

Still, while such cognitive aspects are important in considering the effects of ADHD on your daily routine, it’s also important to consider the emotional ones, too.

Both emotional dysregulation and impulsivity are related to ADHD. However, these can improve with treatment and management strategies.

Whether you’ve been previously diagnosed with ADHD as a child or not, it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional for help if you find yourself overwhelmed with emotions and subsequently acting out on them on a regular basis.