Emotional Outbursts and ADHD Go Hand-in-Hand

Posted on June 14th, 2011

Emotional Outbursts and ADHD Go Hand-in-HandAttention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by individuals whose mind races in many directions and have a hard time concentrating or honing their focus on any particular thing for an extended period of time. Those with ADHD may have a tendency to fidget, talk excessively, have wandering thoughts, be disorganized or forgetful, get impatient, or act out irrationally.

According to a new study, ADHD and lack of emotional self-control may be highly related. In fact, more than 50 percent of those with ADHD also experience what is known as deficient emotional self-regulation (DESR). These individuals may have reactions that seem extreme or excessive in the face of normal circumstances. For example, they may blowup when things don’t go the way they expect. They may also tend to be overly impatient or frustrated by everyday life events.

Anyone under a tremendous amount of pressure or extreme stress could snap and have an emotional meltdown. However, those suffering from ADHD have trouble regulating emotions, even under normal circumstances. Studies show that these types of inabilities to control emotional reactions tend to run in the family. However, researchers are still unclear as to whether the cause is genetics or the environment in which these individuals were raised.

Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a study to determine the connection between emotional outbursts and ADHD, especially among family members. Eighty-three people were examined in total – 23 of which only had ADHD, 27 who were suffering from ADHD as well as DESR, and a control group of 33 individuals who had neither ailment. Researchers also observed 128 siblings of all the study participants.

Since many individuals with ADHD also experience anxiety or mood disorders such as depression, researchers surveyed participants to ensure that emotional outbursts might not be related to other mental illnesses such as these. After accounting for all factors, researchers concluded that participants still experienced difficulty regulating their emotions. Results also showed that siblings whose brothers or sisters had ADHD and DESR were more likely to suffer from both conditions as well.

Lead researcher, Craig B. H. Surman, MD, says that that the same disorder that triggers these individuals to struggle paying their bills on time or have a hard time sitting down to read or pay attention for an extended period of time also affects their emotional expression. Studies of the brain show that an area called the cingulate gyrus might have something to do with it. This part of the brain is involved in regulating behavior, attention span, and emotion and appears to be underactive in individuals with ADHD. However, when these same individuals received stimulants, the cingulate gyrus normalized.

ADHD affects as many as 10 million adults nationwide. Aside from relaxation techniques and stimulant medications, Surman asserts that cognitive behavioral therapy has also been very successful at relieving symptoms of ADHD. He says that there is a lot of hope for individuals once they understand that there is a reason behind their behavior.

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