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Study: Many With ADHD Can’t Control Emotions

Research Suggests Many People With ADHD Also Have Quick Bursts of Anger and Frustration

Emotional Outbursts and ADHD continued...

The surprising thing to researchers was that ADHD and DESR appeared to only co-occur in siblings of original participants with both sets of challenges.

“I think that what we’ve demonstrated is that there’s a subset of people who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who can’t control their emotional reactions, also,” Surman says.

Because mental health conditions like ADHD, depression, and generalized anxiety disorder often occur together, the researchers also asked participants about symptoms and signs that might indicate that another mental illness could account for the emotional volatility they were feeling.

“We found you can individually remove any of the major mental health conditions that we inventoried and people still are reporting these kinds of irritable, emotional overreactions,” Surman says.

The study is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Attention, Emotions, and the Brain

Though researchers are still trying to understand the role of different brain structures in ADHD, one fold of tissue in the middle of the brain, called the cingulate gyrus, appears to be playing a big role.

“It’s so tied to key regulatory systems for behavior and attention and also emotion that it’s highly implicated as a likely place of some sort of issue for ADHD,” Surman says.

Scans that look at the activity of the brain as it is working, called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, have also shown that the activity of the cingulate gyrus in the brains of ADHD patients appears to be lower compared to people without ADHD.

When those same patients are given stimulant medications, the activity of the cingulate gyrus appears to normalize.

In addition to medications, cognitive behavioral approaches to therapy may help.

A paper published last year in The Journal of the American Medical Association, which Surman co-authored, found that two-thirds of patients with ADHD who got 12 weekly counseling sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy report at least a 30% reduction of their symptoms, compared to one-third of a comparison group that was taught relaxation techniques.

“I think there’s a lot of hope if people know why they’re doing what they’re doing,” Surman says.

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