ADHD and Irritability: Causes, Symptoms, and Coping

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental (with onset in the developmental period) disorder that makes it difficult to regulate focus, plan, complete tasks, and control impulses, among other symptoms. The three types of ADHD are predominantly inattentive (easily distracted), predominantly hyperactive/impulsive (marked by fidgety and restless behavior), or both of these combined.

Some common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Lack of focus
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Hyperfocus on a topic of interest
  • An inability to sense and manage time
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Challenges with executive function or the ability to organize, plan, and complete tasks
  • Difficulty regulating emotions

Feeling irritable can be part of the emotional dysregulation that adults and children with ADHD can experience.

This article covers how irritability and other emotions relate to ADHD, how to manage the emotional symptoms of ADHD, and when to seek help.

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Irritability and ADHD

People with ADHD can experience high rates of irritability. One review of ADHD studies found that 70% of people with the disorder can feel more impatient and emotionally excitable, and 85% of people with ADHD can feel higher levels of frustration than people without the disorder.


There are several factors that might contribute to ADHD-related irritability, including:

  • Feeling overstimulated or overwhelmed
  • An unsupportive environment, such as with a difficult peer group or in a stressful workplace
  • Lack of sleep or not getting regular sleep
  • Frustration with organization or time management
  • Feeling rebellious against authority figures
  • Being interrupted or having to switch tasks
  • Taking amphetamine-derived medication, such as Adderall (which is not the same as methylphenidate-derived medication, such as Ritalin)

One analysis found that amphetamine-based stimulants are associated with irritability, whereas methylphenidate stimulants are associated with decreased irritability.


Irritability-associated symptoms a person with ADHD might experience include:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Impatience and frustration
  • Emotional highs and lows that feel difficult to regulate
  • Feeling defensive due to feeling a lack of support from peers or authority figures
  • Exhaustion or burnout
  • Feeling overstimulated
  • Feeling overwhelmed with tasks and problems managing time

Emotional Dysregulation and Emotions

Some researchers feel that emotional dysregulation is a core feature of ADHD, like impulse control, difficulty regulating focus, and restlessness. There is also a complex connection between these symptoms. For example, an emotionally charged moment for a person with ADHD might include reacting too quickly (impulse control) and finding it difficult to stop and clarify an emotion (regulating focus and restlessness).

Other Emotional Symptoms of ADHD

Emotional symptoms that people with ADHD might experience include:

  • Rejection sensitivity dysphoria (RSD), an intense feeling or fear of rejection or criticism that might or might not fit the situation
  • Moodiness that seems difficult to manage
  • Reacting quickly and impulsively in emotional situations
  • Difficulty focusing on emotions so they can be labeled and then processed
  • Feelings of shame, self-doubt, and low self-esteem
  • Symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Feeling overwhelmed or stressed about organizational responsibilities
  • Difficulty with accurately recognizing emotions in oneself or others
  • Focusing on negative emotions more often than on positive emotions

How ADHD Irritability Affects Daily Life

Irritability can affect the daily life of children and adults with ADHD in several ways, including:

  • Angry outbursts that others may misunderstand
  • More criticism and anger from peers, authority figures, friends, and loved ones
  • Greater risk of accidents because of emotional distractions, such as while driving
  • Greater overwhelm in the face of organizing
  • Practical consequences like job loss or being outcasted in school

Managing the Emotional Symptoms of ADHD

The emotional symptoms of ADHD can be managed in several ways. To start, it is helpful to acknowledge them as part of living with the disorder and begin a path toward becoming more aware of emotions and reacting to them accordingly. Ways to do this may include:

  • Mindfulness: Promotes a nonjudgmental, present-centered, and focused awareness of emotions.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Psychotherapy that explores the relationship between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
  • Sleeping well.
  • Managing stress: Taking breaks from or changing stressful environments.
  • Labeling emotions: Children with ADHD might find emotions frustrating because they don't know how to label them, while adults with ADHD might be slower to accurately label emotions.
  • Finding support: Children with ADHD who feel unsupported could have more angry outbursts and face more rejection from peers. Adults with ADHD who are not supported can also experience the disorder more intensely.
  • Physical activity: Regular exercise can help children and adults with ADHD symptoms.
  • Medication: Targeted pharmacological treatment of ADHD and symptoms of emotional dysregulation may be helpful.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Irritability can be a symptom of issues that might require help from a healthcare provider, such as:

  • Depression or anxiety: Irritability can be a sign of a depressive or anxiety disorder for people with ADHD.
  • In children, irritability can be a sign of a physical issue, like pain or illness, or a personal trauma that they're not expressing.
  • Amphetamine-derived medication, such as Adderall, can cause irritability in some people with ADHD.
  • Irritability that disrupts daily life, including jobs, relationships, and personal safety can require professional help.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects impulse control, focus regulation, and the ability to plan and complete tasks, among other symptoms. Emotional dysregulation can also be part of the disorder.

Irritability can be a common experience for children and adults with ADHD. Causes of ADHD-related irritability can include feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated, relationship issues, lack of support, lack of sleep, stress, and in some cases, amphetamine-derived medication, such as Adderall.

Symptoms of irritability among people with ADHD can include angry outbursts and a short temper, impatience, frustration, and moodiness. Feelings of rejection, low self-esteem, anger, difficulty recognizing emotions and reacting appropriately, and intense emotions are other symptoms that people with ADHD may experience.

Managing irritation related to ADHD can include mindfulness, CBT, sleeping well, finding support, exercise, taking breaks from stress, and medications.

At times, irritation in a child or adult with ADHD can reflect an issue such as depression, trauma, medication side effects, and other life problems. In such cases, visiting a healthcare provider could become necessary.

A Word From Verywell

Managing ADHD can be stressful for children and adults who have it. Though irritability can be a common experience, managing it is possible, and you can improve your daily experience of living with the disorder.

It can be all too easy to self-criticize after a bout of irritation, but considering the sheer number of people with ADHD who feel irritable, you're not alone. Work and life stressors combined with daily responsibilities can create intense emotions for anyone with ADHD at any age. Self-acceptance and learning how to clearly label emotions can be great ways to start a journey toward a more peaceful life with the disorder.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why are people with ADHD irritable?

    There are many possible causes of irritability for those with ADHD. People with ADHD can feel overwhelmed by daily responsibilities that require detailed planning and organization. Having ADHD can also mean higher levels of criticism and anger from others and oneself, which can further exacerbate irritability. Overstimulation is another factor of how a person with ADHD feels, including if they feel irritable. Irregular sleep, medications, and brain circuitry may be additional factors.

  • Does ADHD medication help with irritability?

    Studies indicate that most of the time, medication can help children and adults with ADHD to manage emotions. But at least one study has found there is a possibility that amphetamine-derived medications, such as Adderall, can cause irritation in some people (Ritalin is not an amphetamine-based medication). If you suspect your medication is causing irritability, speak to your doctor about switching medications or dosages.

  • What do ADHD mood swings look like?

    ADHD mood swings can seem sudden and unpredictable and can include angry outbursts. These mood swings can often be short lived, and they can be related to attention challenges.

18 Sources
Verywell Health 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 Neha Kashyap
Neha is a New York-based health journalist who has written for WebMD, ADDitude, HuffPost Life, and dailyRx News. Neha enjoys writing about mental health, elder care, innovative health care technologies, paying for health care, and simple measures that we all can take to work toward better health.