Potential Holiday Problems with Impulsivity

When someone has ADHD, their brain may be less effective at controlling response inhibition. That means they may not immediately recognize when something is inappropriate or unsafe. They may also struggle to regulate their emotions and apply problem-solving skills in the moment. Essentially, the brain’s signaling issues when it comes to controlling behavior are delayed, which means that the person with ADHD might act or speak impulsively before they realize their error.

People with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD or combined type ADHD may run into quite a few triggers for impulsivity around the holidays. (Those with inattentive ADHD may not have any impulsive symptoms.) That means that their symptoms may be harder to manage around this time of the year. Let’s take a closer look at what those impulsive behaviors may include and what causes them to rear up during the holiday season.


The sales push for the holidays seems to start earlier and earlier every year. By the time Black Friday rolls around, there’s no question that it’s in full swing. The ads are practically nonstop, with marketers demanding that shoppers spend, spend, spend in order to make sure their holidays are happy.

Of course, excessive spending isn’t the key to enjoying this time of year. In fact, overspending can cause a significant amount of stress and even long-lasting money problems. However, those with ADHD may be more prone to making impulsive purchases. The aggressive marketing around the holidays can serve as a trigger for overspending, which in turn creates financial stress.

Emotional outbursts

The holidays can bring on additional stress and feelings of overwhelm. The season often feel overstimulating to neurodivergent folks, and on top of that, there may be difficult family dynamics brought to the surface during holiday gatherings. These issues can make the holidays an emotional time, particularly for someone who has ADHD.

Individuals with ADHD may have a harder time managing their emotions. They may experience intense feelings of anger or frustration. The impulsive symptoms of ADHD can include sharing unfiltered thoughts, which can be problematic when someone says something they later regret. They may also display impulsive actions like storming out of the room or slamming a door. This type of emotional dysregulation isn’t limited to anger, however. It can also cause someone with ADHD to have mood swings and be very emotionally reactive to difficult situations, leading to distress, sadness, or anxiety.

Risky behaviors

Some people with ADHD are major risk-takers. They may be willing to do things that are equally scary and exhilarating and put their body at risk in the process. Some of the risky behaviors that a person with ADHD might engage in include dangerous driving, unsafe sexual practices, gambling, substance use, and unhealthy eating and drinking. This connects back to the ADHD brain’s inability to recognize unsafe behaviors as quickly as a non-ADHD brain. In addition, risk-taking can boost dopamine levels, which people with ADHD (who tend to experience dopamine insufficiency) are naturally drawn to.

The nature of the holidays creates a lot of temptations for people with impulsive ADHD. For example, there are plenty of opportunities to overindulge in food and drinks since rich foods and alcohol are common facets of holiday gatherings.

Ways to Overcome Impulsivity During the Holidays

There are a number of strategies you can use to counteract the impulsive behaviors which may pop up during the holiday season. Try the following tips to keep ADHD impulsivity under control.

  • Make a shopping plan. Decide exactly what you’ll buy for gifts and other holiday purchases, and stick strictly to your list. Online shopping may help those who tend to make more impulsive purchases when shopping in stores.
  • Set boundaries. If family time triggers emotional stress, figure out a good balance of seeing loved ones and relaxing time on your own. You can choose to attend a party for just an hour or two as opposed to spending half a day there.
  • Enlist a buddy. Ask your partner, a close friend, or a trusted family member to help you avoid risk-taking during the holidays. If you know you’re likely to get caught up in the moment, this buddy can give you a gentle reminder so you don’t act in ways you’ll later regret.
  • Find reliable ADHD treatment. One of the best ways to manage impulsive behaviors is to find an ADHD treatment plan that works for you. The right medication and therapy can be life-changing for someone with ADHD.