ADHD and Anger: How Are They Connected?

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ADHD and anger can be connected, and some kids with ADHD experience frequent outbursts of anger. Adults with ADHD may also experience anger and irritability as well. Although common, these intense emotions affect relationships, impact behavior, and put a strain on family life.

Understanding the causes of anger and frustration with ADHD, along with some strategies for managing these intense emotions, can help prevent these short bursts of anger from causing long-term damage.

The Link Between ADHD and Anger

Children and adults with ADHD often experience emotions with greater intensity than their peers without ADHD. This is known as emotional dysregulation, or a poor ability to manage emotional responses or to keep them within an acceptable range of typical emotional reactions. It can be characterized by:

  • Persistent irritability
  • Increased impatience, particularly when stressed
  • Overreactions in response to minor stressors
  • Intense emotions
  • Outbursts of explosive anger
  • Difficulty expressing anger in words

Research suggests that emotional dysregulation is common in people with ADHD. Approximately 70% of people with adult ADHD experience dysregulation, although individual experiences may vary.

In children, comorbid conditions such as impulsive aggression and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), as well as medication side effects, may make it more likely that your child will feel bad-tempered, aggressive, impatient, and angry. Here are some of the most common reasons why kids and adults with ADHD may exhibit angry outbursts:


Impulsivity is a symptom of ADHD that is often caused by an inability to focus and control behaviors. The impulsive nature of ADHD means that if someone feels angry, they communicate it right away. This is often more apparent in children since they haven’t yet developed strategies that adults with ADHD develop.

More than 50% of preadolescents with ADHD experience impulsive aggression, which is also known as affective aggression, and is characterized by strong, unplanned emotions, usually anger, that often takes place in the heat of the moment.

Moodiness and Mood Disorders

Moods change very quickly throughout the day when you have ADHD. There can be many episodes of happiness, sadness, and frustration—all in one afternoon.

In addition, people with ADHD experience high rates of comorbid mood disorders that can cause irritability and fuel mood changes and flashes of anger, including:

In adults with ADHD, the most common comorbid conditions include mood, anxiety, substance use, and personality disorders.


Frustration is an emotion that stems from challenges that stand in the way of goals. The ability to deal with frustration is known as frustration tolerance. Low tolerance to frustration can mean that people with ADHD feel frustrated quickly, and this can quickly result in anger outbursts.

Poor Self-Esteem

It's common for children and adults with ADHD to experience low self-esteem. As children, ADHD symptoms can make it difficult for kids to experience academic achievement. It also makes it more challenging for them to make and keep friends, which can lead to a sense of isolation and lowered self-esteem that can persist into adulthood.

Low self-esteem and feeling anxious about a situation they can’t control can also lead to feelings of anger.

Medication Side Effects

In children, it is not uncommon for kids to experience a difficult period when their stimulant medications are wearing off, resulting in increased meltdowns and tantrums. This is known as medication rebound and is a result of the speed at which your particular child metabolizes the medication.

Let your doctor know if your child is experiencing medication rebound. Since it tends to occur more frequently with shorter-acting stimulants that can move out of your child's system quickly, your doctor may add a very small dose of immediate-release medicine about an hour before this rebound effect occurs so that the transition off the medicine is smoother.

One double-blind study found that children on stimulants had a reduction in irritability and tantrums after being given the antidepressant Celexa (citalopram).

Excess Energy

Excess energy, or hyperactivity, can present as physical and/or verbal overactivity. The energy and restlessness that comes along with ADHD may be too much to handle at times until it finally bubbles over into angry words or physical reactions.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Approximately one-third of all children with ADHD also have oppositional defiant disorder. Children with ODD display defiant, hostile behaviors towards authority figures.

They often lose their temper, frequently argue with adults, actively defy rules, blame others, deliberately annoy others, are touchy, easily annoyed and behave in angry, resentful ways overall.

Obviously, some oppositional behaviors are expected in children, and ODD is only diagnosed if the pattern of behavior is significantly more intense and frequent when compared to other children of the same age. If you think your child might have ODD, book an appointment with your pediatrician. 

How to Help Your Child

As a parent, it can be hard to see your child losing control. While you can’t make the anger disappear, you can help your child better manage these intense emotions. Here are a few tips to help.

Work With Your Child's Doctor

Working closely with your child's doctor is a crucial part of managing your child's anger. They can prescribe appropriate medication and recommend therapy, special accommodations, social skills, and lifestyle changes

Keep your child's doctor informed about medication side effects and what is and isn't working to help manage your child's anger.

Encourage Exercise

If anger is an issue for your child, be sure to provide appropriate outlets. Strenuous outdoor play and exercise can be very powerful releases for children with ADHD.

Running, jumping, skipping, climbing—these basic physical activities will help release some of the tension, restlessness, and extra energy that often accompanies ADHD. Make sure your child is engaging in this type of play daily. 

Try Martial Arts

Consider enrolling your child in a martial arts class. Martial arts are an excellent exercise choice for an ADHD child. It helps develop self-discipline and self-control, which in turn helps with impulsivity. It also improves self-esteem and is an excellent way to release energy. 

Help Your Child Express Emotions

Encourage your child to "use their words" rather than act aggressively. To begin with, it might be hard for them because it is a new skill.

However, with practice and a little help from you, it will become easier. Being able to articulate how they are feeling lessens their need to express themselves through anger. For example, "Jimmy took my red car and I feel mad."

Notice Patterns

There may be particular times of day that your child's anger appears to peak. Taking note of any patterns can ensure you're better prepared to handle these outbursts. For example, you may notice their anger is more intense:

  • After school, when your child is able to let down their guard and release pent-up feelings
  • When they are feeling hungry or tired
  • When they are experiencing frustration with a task
  • When their ADHD medication is wearing off

Limit Screen Time

Supervise the programs your child watches on television or on the computer. Much of the media on TV, movies, video games, etc. is violent, aggressive, and inappropriate.

Children with impulse control problems may be more easily influenced by the aggressive reactions they see. Set rules around these programs, and explain to your child why it is not appropriate to watch these shows (or play these video games).

Set Clear, Consistent Rules

Make sure you have clear house rules around behavior. When your child is settled and able to talk, sit down and come up with the rules together. Discuss expectations and consequences for behaviors, including a reward system. Then once they are in place, stick to them.

Don’t change the rules or make up consequences in the middle of an outburst. Be matter-of-fact: "If that happens, then this is the consequence." Strong boundaries are helpful for you both. If your child is working with a therapist or counselor, you may want to ask for recommendations of discipline strategies that work well for kids with ADHD.

How to Manage Anger as an Adult With ADHD

If you have adult ADHD and experience frequent feelings of anger, there are strategies that can help you cope. 

  • Exercise: Staying physically active has a number of benefits for people with ADHD, including improving mood, reducing impulsivity, and increasing attention. It may also help reduce feelings of hostility, which can help you better manage feelings of anger.
  • Consider medication: Stimulant medications may be useful for reducing symptoms of irritability.
  • Improve self-regulation: Work on developing self-regulation skills to find new ways to manage feelings of frustration.
  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness can help you become more aware of your emotions in the present moment, which can help you to regulate what you're feeling more effectively.

A Word From Verywell

It's when kids or adults with ADHD lose control and struggle with anger. If your child has angry outbursts, and especially if these intense emotions interfere with their relationships, education, and quality of life, it's important to teach them the skills they need to deal with their feelings in a healthy way. As an adult, there are also strategies you can use to better cope and keep feelings of anger from interfering with your life and relationships.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.