With ADHD, Anger May Be Genetic

2014-05-19 17:09

Many adults impacted by ADHD have difficulty regulating their emotions. They may move quickly into anger, overwhelm or anxiety at unexpected times and in response to triggers that seem minor.

This emotional lability can be quite difficult for spouses and other family members to deal with. Spouses end up ‘walking on eggshells,’ uncertain when the partner with ADHD will over-react. The vigilance needed to be around someone with this sort of emotional lability leads to higher levels of stress, and anxiety about how to keep from triggering the ADHD partner, leading to a relationship that can feel unsafe.

Children with ADHD also tend to have greater emotional lability. As children grow older, many parents face unexpected responses and mood swings that cannot be attributed to puberty and aging alone.


Research conducted by Merwood and colleagues explored the source of this emotional rollercoaster. Is it environmentally induced? Genetically linked to any of the many genes associated with attention and ADHD? Their findings, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in February of 2014, suggest that emotional regulation problems are a core feature of ADHD, and are genetically linked. The study was done with a sample of more than 1900 twins, ages 5 -18, and the emotional rollercoaster increased in magnitude as the children aged.

Though the research did not reach beyond age 18, my work with couples would suggest that the roller coaster continues, and perhaps increases, into adulthood and that it may be exacerbated by stress. The implications are this: adults and children with ADHD should not take their emotional swings for granted, or pass them off as “just another difficult day.” Rather, they should set emotional regulation as a target symptom in their treatment for ADHD. The improved emotional control that targeted treatment strategies can bring will help them succeed in a world that expects more even-keeled behavior, particularly from adults.


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