ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and Emotional Regulation (Anger)

A lot of people come in to ask about not just ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADD) but also about one particular problem they are having: emotional regulation. They aren't sure why they are having trouble with controlling their emotions because, well, they have ADHD, not a mood disorder! But emotional disregulation is often, even with adults, a part of the problem of ADHD.

Most of us have experiences throughout the day and react to those experience. Usually, we react pretty well, within social bounds. We realize that this is a "now event" and that how we react will lead to "later consequences." As a matter of fact there is a particular part of the brain that helps us with this problem: the Interior Syngulate. This is a part of the overall limbic system, which includes the amygdala, that regulates, interprets and prepares us to deal with events which have emotional content and consequences. In individuals with ADHD we know that this part of the brain is both smaller, and when an emotional situation arises, simply doesn't activate. The part of the brain that tells us to "hold off" our actions, and not respond to the emotional content of situations, isn't working.

That's actually the difference between a mood disorder, in which we are having LOTS of POWERFUL moods and emotions that are not appropriate for the situation, and ADHD, where we are having emotions that ARE appropriate to the situation (being really angry) but unlike everyone else our brains are forgetting to tell us to suppress those emotions until a more appropriate time. That's the difference between mood disorders and ADHD or ADD.

When a child, adolescent or adult with ADHD experiences a strong emotion, it's normal. But anyone else would have suppressed that emotion. The mood is the same, the emotion is not. This is why we work cognitively, using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, to help change our automatic thoughts about daily events, why we work behaviourally to change our automatic reactions to situations and work educationally to make sure clients with ADHD understand what's going on in their brains and why they aren't reacting like everyone else. ADHD is more than just inattention.

What can we do? Counselling and therapy helps, especially for those who have developed poor coping strategies. Medication can also help activate this part of the brain, as well as the frontal lobes or executive function of the brain. Below is a link to a talk Dr. Russell Barkley recently gave about this very issue:

See your medical doctor, and see your psychologist for a diagnosis and help with ADHD. This website is not meant to provide therapy, counselling or replace your relationship with a licensed or registered medical or mental health professional. See your doctor. And this blog is certainly not meant to help you diagnose yourself or anyone else. As usual, I advise against on-line tests and assessments for ADHD or any similar mental health issue. Visit a professional today. A Registered Psychologist can be located by contacting the British Columbia Psychological Association. If you are interested in contact me for assessment or other services please feel free to look over my web page at or or call my office at 778.998-7975.