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The Emotional Effects of Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder

For years people have focused on the visible effects of ADHD, namely an inability to concentrate in school and impulsive behavior. We are now becoming more aware of the emotional effects of the ADHD diagnosis. The DSM-5TM describes ADHD as a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development, and negatively impacts social, academic or occupational functioning. However, ADHD is not just a behavioral disorder of childhood as previously thought. It is a neuro-behavioral disorder associated with differences in the prefrontal cortex, the front portion of the brain responsible for mental functions including attention and behavior1. Children diagnosed with ADHD tend to be impatient, restless, and react inappropriately in social situations. They are easily provoked and may be labeled as troublesome for speaking out of turn, and displaying seemingly rude behaviors. Why is this? Let's take a look.


Research suggests people with ADHD process two hormones, norepinephrine and dopmanine, differently than those without ADHD due to the difference in brain structure.1 Norepinephrine is the neurotransmitter,a substance that transmits nerve impulses across our body, and helps us react to stress and danger. When this stress hormone is low we can be less alert, and have difficulty remembering things. Dopamine helps regulate emotional responses and is the happiness hormone which is in charge of feelings of reward and pleasure. When doctors prescribe stimulants for people diagnosed with ADHD those stimulants increase the level of these hormones in the body making it easier to concentrate and manage emotions effectively2.


Children with ADHD often have trouble making and maintaining friendships because, classmates and school teachers may interpret their outbursts as disruptive and troublesome. Anger is a normal human emotion. However, people with ADHD, may have more trouble focusing on tasks and dealing with stress, which may cause frustration and heighten anger. According to the Mayo Clinic, the emotional effects of ADHD, such as outbursts of anger, may also complicate relationships and cause problems at work or school. These children can react strongly to emotional stimulus like loosing a game, or a correction by a teacher. Sometimes their inability to sit still or focusing on an unrelated task, such as talking to friends can lead them to being labeled as defiant and unruly.

How You Can Help

Though the emotional symptoms of ADHD often mimic those of other diagnosis like depression and anxiety they are separate diagnosis and a professional should be consulted to make a diagnosis and to recommend treatment. Doctors and therapists can use questionnaires and other measures, like a physical examination and medical history to help decide if mood difficulties are cause by ADHD or other issues. Our bodies experience a natural boost in norepinephrine when we sleep, exercise, meet a goal, or feel loved. This likely is why diet, exercise, sports and reward systems work well with children with ADHD. Children with ADHD can feel left out, marginalized, sad and isolated because they are unable to achieve the goals set for them by parents, teachers, and caregivers. Focusing on those things they are successful at, and helping them to achieve small manageable goals each day can help increase their self-esteem, and emotional coping skills.

If you have a child who is experiencing symptoms of ADHD and would like some help you can call Lamplight Counseling Services LLC at 330-331-5800.

1Biol Psychiatry, 2005 June 1; 57(11):1377-84.

2 Neel Duggal “Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD): The Role of Dopamine Healthline June 10, 2016