Why Does ADHD Cause Mood Swings?

Many, but not all, people with ADHD have experience with strong emotional reactions that can dramatically alter their mood. This often happens when the person becomes irritated with their other ADHD symptoms, like being easily distracted or having trouble maintaining their focus. When these symptoms cause frustration, they may lead to a rapid change in mood.

In some cases, ADHD mood swings are accompanied by emotional outbursts. This can be traced back to the fact that impulsivity is a common symptom of the disorder. Because ADHD can make it difficult for people to self-regulate, they struggle to process and manage the intense emotions they’re feeling, which can lead to reactive mood changes and even tantrum-like episodes.

This is often referred to as emotional dysregulation. According to one study, about 70% of adults and 80% of children with ADHD report problems with emotional dysregulation.

What Triggers Mood Swings with ADHD?

Mood swings with ADHD can be set off by a number of different emotions that a person naturally experiences in their day-to-day life. Someone with the disorder might react strongly to feelings of disappointment, frustration, or anger, for example. A heightened sense of emotion can also apply to positive feelings, like excitement or happiness.

It's worth noting that other symptoms of ADHD may trigger mood swings. Many of the behaviors associated with ADHD can be frustrating for the person experiencing them. For instance, if you're constantly feeling distracted and can't stay focused on an important task, feelings of frustration, stress, or anxiety may start to build up. That bubbling irritation just under the surface can easily be set off when yet another distraction comes into play.

Irritability can also be a possible  side effect of some stimulant ADHD medications, especially when they are wearing off. This effect is often known as rebound, and the intensity can vary according to how quickly a patient's body processes the medication. Rebound is more likely to occur when someone processes the medication at a faster rate, causing ADHD symptoms to return at a more intense level for a brief time. Irritability as a side effect is more closely associated with amphetamine-derived medications like Adderall than methylphenidates like Ritalin.

Other symptoms of rebound may include increased impulsivity and hyperactivity. If these symptoms appear while the medication is supposed to be active rather than when it's wearing off, it may be a sign that the dose is too high.

Other Possible Causes of Mood Swings

It’s worth noting that if someone with ADHD is having mood swings, there’s a chance that the cause may be something other than their ADHD. While having ADHD may make you more prone to these shifts in mood, there are other possible factors that could be at play.

For example, people with bipolar disorder sometimes shift from feeling euphoric and manic to feeling incredibly low and depressed. If this happens to you, think about when these mood swings occur. With bipolar disorder, the shift is typically slower and happens without any kind of trigger, whereas ADHD mood swings happen more quickly, often in response to something that’s frustrating or upsetting.  Mood swings in bipolar disorder are also more persistent, not occurring within one day, but typically lasting for at least 5 days, where there is an overall change in mood.  

Anxiety and depression are relatively common among people with ADHD, and both conditions can also result in mood swings.

Rather than automatically assuming that any mood swings can be directly attributed to ADHD, be sure to consider other issues which could be influencing the way you feel and react.

How to Manage ADHD Mood Swings

There are a number of things you can do to help minimize your mood swings with ADHD, such as:

  • Recognize and avoid common triggers for frustration and anger.
  • Journal when you’re upset or frustrated to better understand your emotions and triggers.
  • Learn stress management techniques, like meditation or deep breathing.
  • Change activities when mood swings occur, like getting up and going for a walk.

If you’re still struggling, you may want to seek help from a healthcare professional. A doctor or therapist can help you sort through these issues if they’re affecting your relationships, your job, or other areas of your life. Getting on the right medication can help, too. At Done, we’re here to help you find the right treatment for ADHD through our convenient telehealth services. Contact us today to learn more.