ADHD and Emotional Dysregulation

One of the traits used by psychologists to distinguish among individuals with ADHD is the level of emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation is defined as an inability to manage, moderate, or put into context one’s emotions. Recent research shows that a significant subgroup of people with ADHD has serious difficulties in regulating their emotions.

According to a recent study from researchers in Germany, almost all individuals with ADHD have some level of impaired emotion regulation abilities. What is  more significant is that between one-third and two-thirds of those with ADHD has more severe deficits in this regard. For them, emotional regulation impairments result in higher rates of depression, expression of more negative emotions, and greater psychological distress.

Much of the discussion about ADHD has centered around what are called the cognitive symptoms of ADHD. These include things like:

  • Inattention or inability to focus
  • Distractibility
  • Executive functioning
  • Memory

These cognitive deficits are thought to arise from a combination of genetic and neurochemical factors. The high rate of emotional dysregulation among individuals diagnosed with ADHD suggests the inability to self-regulate in the cognitive sphere applies to the self-regulation of emotions as well.

Emotional dysregulation can cause difficulties in everyday life:

  • Acting impulsively or rashly
  • Burning bridges with friends or colleagues at work
  • Having a greater difficulty dealing with grief, loss and negative events
  • Problems forming and sustaining relationships
  • Experiencing other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression

This research is signalling that issues with managing emotions deserves greater consideration by health professionals  in the treatment of ADHD. It confirms that, in many cases, psychotherapy – to address emotional regulation issues – has a more important role to play as pat of an overall treatment plan for ADHD.

2 Responses

  1. Robin
    | Reply

    I have had a lot of issues with regulating my emotions in my life- and I had no idea until doing the research myself that it was part of my ADHD! I have no clue if I just wasn’t paying attention during my psychiatry appointments as a child, or if it was never brought up- but it was certainly never treated for.

    I’ve been in therapy for ADHD-unrelated reasons, but have managed to learn some skills for coping, and have been prescribed guanfacine to help manage the sudden, often overwhelming rushes of emotion I would feel at the slightest provocation.

    I’m glad I’m seeing more and more about the toll ADHD can play on people’s emotions- the rollercoaster is much more of an issue than academic struggle, in my opinion.

  2. Susan
    | Reply

    Absolutely. As the mother of a 21-year old with ADHD, depression and anxiety, and as a teacher for 30 years, I have seen the fallout of emotional disregulation up close. Public schools are not all equipped to help students with ADHD to understand and then work to be in command of their emotional lives. Pediatricians also need to be more proactive in providing early intervention services and family therapy. People with ADHD are widely misunderstood, judged and criticized. Those who care about them must learn new tools to help them self-actualize into healthy, happy people.

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