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ADHD & Impulsivity

By Michelle Bolyn ; Updated August 14, 2017

The three main symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention—greatly impact a person’s ability to succeed at school or work, and to maintain healthy relationships. Children, teens and adults can get treatment to reduce these negative, afflicting symptoms, so they can live more normal lives.

Signs and Symptoms reports that children who suffer from ADHD display impulsive symptoms such as blurting out answers in class, having trouble waiting their turns, being unable to control their emotions, and interrupting others. Teens and adults with ADHD exhibit impulsive symptoms as well. They might say inappropriate things without thinking and make dangerous or poor choices on a whim.


Impulsive behavior leads to problems at school and work. A child who interrupts her teacher and peers might get labeled as a bad kid and suffer consequences on her report card. Her peers may not be patient with her, make fun of her and refuse to accept her. A child with ADHD might throw extreme temper tantrums in her classroom and at home, frustrating her teachers and parents. A teen that suffers from this disorder might get into trouble at school for thinking before she speaks. She might also get bullied by her peers and make impulsive decisions that affect her grades, such as skipping class. Adults who can’t control their impulses at work risk being demoted or fired.

Another effect of impulsive behavior is the trouble it can cause in relationships. If a teenager constantly interrupts her friends and has one-sided conversations, her friends might not be around for long. An adult who makes impulsive decisions about spending money, quitting his job, or saying things he'll later regret will have trouble in his romantic relationships. Adults expect other adults to be dependable.


Some parents and teachers don’t realize that children and teens with ADHD don’t make impulsive decisions on purpose. It’s not their intention to derail a lecture by interrupting, or to say something hurtful to a close friend. This is one of the main differences between ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). The intention to make these mistakes isn’t present.

Impulse Control

A combination of medication and therapy can help children, adolescents and adults reduce their symptoms of ADHD. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that the most common type of medication used in treating ADHD is stimulants such as Ritalin or Adderall. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help children, teens and adults focus on behavioral techniques they can use to reduce making impulsive decisions. Adults can also implement self-help tips such as apologizing immediately if they offend someone, avoiding gossip and listening before joining a conversation.


Impulsive decision making can lead to extremely dangerous behaviors. Teens who suffer from ADHD might drink and drive, start using drugs, drive erratically, or have unprotected sex without considering the consequences. Adults with this disorder also make possible life-altering decisions without understanding the consequences. The dangers of making impulsive decisions is one of most important reasons to seek professional help.

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