Understanding deficient emotional self-regulation in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a controlled study

Atten Defic Hyperact Disord. 2013 Sep;5(3):273-81. doi: 10.1007/s12402-012-0100-8. Epub 2013 Feb 15.


While symptoms of deficient emotional self-regulation (DESR) such as low frustration tolerance, temper outbursts, emotional impulsivity, and mood lability are commonly associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), little is known about their nature. The main aim of this post hoc study was to examine the correlates of DESR in a large sample of adults with and without ADHD. Subjects were 206 adults with ADHD and 123 adults without ADHD from a family study of ADHD. Emotional impulsivity was operationalized using items from the Barkley Current Behavior Scale. Subjects were comprehensively assessed for psychiatric comorbidity using structured diagnostic interview methodology. We used the Quality of Life, Enjoyment, and Satisfaction Questionnaire-Short Form (QLES-Q-SF) and Social Adjustment Scale-Self-report (SAS-SR) to assess quality of life and psychosocial functioning. DESR was more common among ADHD compared with non-ADHD adults, and 55% of adults with ADHD reported extreme DESR of greater severity than 95% of control subjects. The association of ADHD and DESR was not entirely accounted for by either current or lifetime comorbid disorders. DESR was also associated with significant functional impairment as evaluated by the QLES-Q-SF and SAS-SR, and with reduced marital status, as well as higher risk for traffic accidents and arrests. DESR adversely impacts quality of life in adults with ADHD. More work is needed to further evaluate DESR in clinical and investigational studies of subjects with ADHD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / complications
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Social Control, Informal*