When ADHD Leads to Self-Medicating With Argument

ADHD self-medicating with Argument Calvin arguing with girl

Simply put, self-medicating with argument refers to the stimulation some folks with ADHD get by provoking a conflict—consciously or not. It can spell disaster for your life and relationships.

For many obvious reasons, ADHD-challenged relationships tend to teem with arguments and conflicts.  Especially when neither partner knows ADHD is in the mix!  Apart from that, why do some people with ADHD self-medicate with argument? Case by case, we can only speculate. One thing’s for sure overall: Getting angry and arguing can release adrenaline—and thus calming focus.

But we don’t have to know why self-medicating with argument happens to know that it happens.  Even when you do recognize the phenomenon, it’s no way to live. Rather, understanding paves the path to Adult ADHD evidence-based solutions.

You Read It First Here and In You Me ADHD

I wrote about this type of self-medicating in my first book, published in 2008 (Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?). ADHD Roller Coaster readers found the first version of this article in 2010. The most popular term that brings readers to my blog ever since: arguing with somebody has ADHD.

A decade later, tons of websites have now discovered the popularity of the term when it comes to increasing web traffic.  In other words, you now see it a lot. On one level, that’s good. This bewildering behavior has a rational explanation—and, with any luck, we can learn to de-escalate.

On another hand, many sites apply “self-medicating with argument” to issues that have nothing to do with this phenomenon. Or they imply that all ADHD-related challenges result from “self-medicating with that dopamine hit.”  That risks staying stuck in dysfunction. Simple explanations around ADHD never get us to where we want to be.

Poorly managed or unrecognized ADHD creates all manner of dysfunction and misinterpretation —until you figure out what’s going on and take steps to clear the confusion.

when someone tells you not to stir the pot

In This Post on Self-Medicating with Argument:

In revising this popular post, I touch upon these topics:

  1. Overview: The ADHD self-medicating with argument behavior—rewarding, conscious or not
  2. Too Much Fighting — common reason for leaving ADHD-challenged relationships
  3. Remember: Other causes of conflict abound in ADHD-challenged relationships
  4. It happens in dual-ADHD relationships, too!
  5. The pre-cursor: Saturday Morning Fight Syndrome™
  6. Validation in research and reading
  7. Book excerpt and tips, briefly
  8. Tip: Don’t Take the Bait!
  9. “Self-Medicating” with other types of negative activities
  10. Divorce and marriage statistics related to couple conflict

Self-medicating with argument for reward ADHD

 

1. Overview: A Rewarding Behavior—Conscious or Not

Let me be absolutely clear: Nothing about ADHD is universal. “Self-medicating” with argument is a prime example. Many people with ADHD are, if anything, argument-averse. And certainly, you needn’t have ADHD to be an argumentative son of a gun.

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Yet, some individuals with ADHD do habitually bait others into heated disagreements. It’s typically a subconscious behavior.  Some, though, will admit to “loving a good argument.” On some level, they’ve learned on some level that stimulation or adrenaline or…something…gives them a feeling of focus and calm. That is a welcome but fleeting feeling. And it can leave a mess in its wake.

“I’ve never understood until now,” says Marie. “why I would be reduced into tears after one of these episodes with my husband. Meanwhile he, I swear, would have a smirk on his face. As if, ‘I win.’  What a sick way to get turned on.”

Behavior Can Start as a Survival Instinct

For some, the behavior starts small. Think class clown or, later in life, provoking a political argument at the holiday dinner table. It might be the only way they can participate in conversations that are too complex to follow, due to distractibility.  Instead of participate, though, it’s more like dominate.

Because this dysfunctional pattern can be rewarding, it gets reinforced over time and morphs into other forms.

Provocations can take place anywhere–in traffic, online, at family holiday dinners, with co-workers. As with Marie, above, these conflicts tend leave the other person feeling confused and depressed. As in, “What just happened?” and “Was that really my fault?”

Low Insight Complicates Things

Are the “provokers” aware? Not often, it seems. If the person has  low insight to their own ADHD challenges (“denial”), they might be full of self-righteous animosity or victimhood.

For example, say the person easily bored and has difficulty paying attention—but doesn’t realize the nature of these challenges. The rationale for creating at ruckus at the family dinner table might be, “They deserve to be upset if they can’t produce more interesting conversations!”

Put another way, they might truly feel they are the ones being treated unfairly—or provoked. Yes, even feeling bored can anger some folks with ADHD, leading them to see the other person willfullly inflicting boredom as a type of punishment.   Again, the truth is, some people with ADHD find some conversations or events boring for one reason only: They cannot pay attention.

Lacking objectivity to the situation, they might feel “all’s fair in love and war”. They might strike back in response to what they feel are offensive, unwarranted attacks. It might not make sense to most of us. But when your brain is constantly “noisy” as you struggle to focus, the slightest interference can feel like a direct attack.

ADHD self-medicate with argument and provocation

2. “Too Much Fighting” — Common in ADHD Relationships

In fact, “Too much fighting” was a top reason for leaving the relationship, according to  ADHD Partner Survey respondents who had divorced, separated from, or stopped dating their ADHD partner.

Interestingly, one general-population study showed 58% of divorcing couples stated as the reason : “too much conflict and arguing”.  How many of these survey respondents were unknowingly affected by ADHD?  I bet more than a few. (Check out the chart and a fantastic drove of data at the Hernorm website, linked to at the end of this post.)

Bottom line: We find plenty of reasons for conflict in ADHD relationships. Until both partners get on board with understanding ADHD and its treatment strategies, conflict is almost guaranteed.

ADHD self-medicate with argument and provocation relationships

3. Conflict Exists Beyond Self-Medicating with Argument

Attributing these common factors simply to “self-medicating with argument” is a huge mistake:

  • Poor communication created by ADHD-related challenges in listening and remembering
  • “Memory holes” that leave the ADHD adult feeling certain you never conveyed important information (when you did)—or the opposite, feeling certain they conveyed important information (when they didn’t)
  • Impulsivity in responding before understanding—or from misunderstanding
  • Mood dysregulation, a common trait with ADHD, manifesting in short tempers, angry outbursts, and chronic irritability
  • “Denial” of ADHD symptoms (with both physiological and psychological underpinnings, covered at length in my first book)
  • Being unaware of these factors, thus blaming the other person for the conflict and poor communications
  • A co-existing condition such as conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder, autistic spectrum disorder, or even anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Ignorance around all these factors, which throws fuel on the fire

Again, it’s typically not intentional behavior.  Let’s be honest, though: Some are very aware—even proud of—their propensity to “stir the pot.”

Simply becoming aware of the pattern doesn’t make it any less exhausting—or destructive. That changes only when the person sees self-damaging consequences and accepts the need for change.

dual-ADHD couple conflict

4. It Happens in Dual-ADHD Couples, Too!

Jaclyn Paul at The ADHD Homestead wrote about a guest post for me on this topic. Specifically, she described her husband’s response to reading this part of my first book:

There was a part in Gina’s book where she mentioned that ADHD’ers have a tendency to antagonize others just for the novelty.

I recognized that behavior in myself immediately, and it brought me to tears as I finally accepted that I had ADHD and that I’d been the cause of so many arguments in so many relationships.

I resolved that if nothing else, I had to try to fix that.

To read Jaclyn’s full essay:  How Can Medication Help ADHD Relationships?

saturday morning fight syndrome Gina Pera

5. Precursor: Saturday Morning Fight Syndrome™

Picture it. San Francisco. 1996. The dot-com boom was just taking off. My then-fiancee and I had just moved to the Bay Area from San Diego.

The dot-com boom was just taking off. Starbucks was proliferating. We were all on our way to becoming a bunch of over-caffeinated, over-connected nervous wrecks.  But that would take a few years.

Meanwhile, I eagerly anticipated fun weekends exploring all the Bay Area has to offer!  He claimed he was, too. But his actions told another story. What story was that, you ask?  It took me a while to figure out.

All I Knew Was This:

Every Saturday morning, I’d be excited to think about the day’s adventures. But Dr. Goat (aka, my husband) was scowling, huffing and puffing.  Soon, coming out of nowhere, an argument would ensue. Bewildered, I took his complaints or criticisms at face value. So, I’d defend, surprised and angry that yet another potentially lovely day had turned to mess.

It was exhausting. It was crazy-making. What was happening?

Sometimes we’d just go our separate ways. Sometimes, we’d get in the car and set out to previously discussed destination. But there was no conversation in the car.  Why? That might start an argument! Instead, Dr. Goat would crank his car seat back as far as possible, close his eyes, and snooze.  I felt like an ambulance driver carrying a patient. What the…..

Finally, I couldn’t help but notice the pattern. All was fine during the work week. But things always blew up on Saturday. I finally said to my husband, “Have you noticed that we always have a blow-up on Saturday morning?”  He said, “Well, yes, I thought it was your period.”  I stared at him, incredulous: “Every Saturday???? What do you think I am, a rabbit?  For petesake, you’re a biologist.”

I came to call it Saturday Morning Fight Syndrome™.

In my conference presentations over the ensuing years, whenever I say, “Saturday Morning Fight Syndrome”—chuckles of recognition break out. When they hear about the weekly periods, audiences laugh out loud. But some scratched their heads at my husband’s bizarre conclusion. I say it clearly illustrates one critical point: When we don’t know what is causing a phenomenon, we will latch onto anything, especially if we can blame someone else!”

research papers

6. Validation From Research and Reading

Around the time I named Saturday Morning Fight Syndrome™, I happened upon an ADHD research paper that seemed relevant. Children with ADHD, it said, reported feeling more stressed on the weekend than on school days!  One possibility suggested: Facing unstructured time created anxiety.

Ah-ha.  This phenomenon was bigger than my husband and me. I asked other partners of adults with ADHD if they could relate. “Absolutely!” many said. Though some said it happened on Sunday.  The issue wasn’t particular to Saturday or Sunday. It involved any day that we out of routine, with unstructured time, and expectations for “fun.”

By about 2001, I happened upon a book by psychiatrist Daniel Amen, MD: Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. That’s how I learned about ADHD. It certainly did change my life—and many others’ lives after I took up this mission. One chapter touched upon these issues, so I interviewed Dr. Amen and combined his findings with my own observations for my first book, published in 2008.

is it you, me, or adult A.D.D.?

7. Book Excerpt: ADHD & Self-Medicating with Argument

Here’s an excerpt on the subject from Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? Stopping the Roller Coaster When Someone You Love Has Attention Deficit Disorder.  (Note, ADD was the term in 2008, not ADHD. All else about the book remains relevant and up-to-date. I wrote it to be “evergreen.”)

For Kimberly, here’s the hardest thing to understand about her husband. It doesn’t matter how accommodating she is, how hard she tries to avoid doing things that would make him angry. As long as he wants to be angry, he will find a reason.

Moreover, he wants to get angry a lot, and he will always find a way to make his anger her fault.

Then when he finally succeeds in provoking her anger and she loses her temper, she’ll suffer more accusations from him about her anger-management problem. Kimberly ends up feeling ashamed yet defensive because, she says, “Most people have no idea how determined some people with ADHD can be at provoking others.”

As Kimberly puts it: “My husband gets his adrenaline kick. But I just plain feel kicked.”

The chapter offers more examples, as well as tips to avoid entering a “self-medicating” argument. A taste follows.

self-medicate with conflict don't take the bait ADHD

8. Tip: Don’t Take (or Dangle) The Bait!

Recognize the dysfunctional ADHD relationship pattern and take steps to de-escalate:

  • If your loved one with ADHD displays this behavior, it’s very important to stop “taking the bait.”
  • I offer suggestions in the book as to how you can begin detaching and effectively rewarding the behavior.  My favorite? When your ADHD partner just won’t let up, say, “I’m very interested in hearing what you have to say but I really need to use the bathroom.”  Then, lock yourself in the bathroom with about 20 minutes of reading material. By that time, your partner might have calmed down—or have forgotten the reason for the conflict.
  • If you are the person with ADHD stuck in this pattern, recognize how destructive “dangling the bait” can be to your relationships.
  • Try to understand that, because ADHD can limit self-awareness, you might not see this clearly until you try medication.

As one man said to my local Adult ADHD group:

“I’ve been taking medication for 2 weeks,. It turns out: My wife is not the nasty *itch I thought she was. Instead, it was me and my ADHD interfering with my attention, making listening to her painful.”

As you both become mindful of this ADHD self-medicating with argument phenomenon, you should soon make a discovery. That is: Many of your “arguments” have nothing to do with legitimate issues.  They spring solely from one of you subconsciously seeking stimulation—and the other taking the bait.  Again and again. And again.

couple conflict ADHD self-medicating with torture

9. ADHD and Self-Medicating with Other Negative Activities

For another look at this phenomenon, check Our Lost Weekend Without Meds.

Jason had not known his boyfriend before his diagnosis and medication treatment started.  When his boyfriend told him that, thanks to one snag after another, he’d have to go the weekend with medication, Jason thought, “no big deal.”  But it was a big deal, culminating in this excerpt from his story:

When we finally cleared the air over who was responsible for him being lost, we sat down to relax by watching TV. He chose a show about terrorist training. After all the bad news on this topic, not to mention the last three days’ tension at home, I didn’t consider that relaxing. “But it’s really good!” he insisted.

After 20 minutes of watching him “self-medicate” by seeing torture victims suffer atrocities, I said, “No, I don’t want to watch this.” He stubbornly left it on, so I left the room. He said, “If you don’t like it, change the channel!” He had forgotten that he was holding the damn thing in a death grip. Argh!

marriage statistics argument and conflict ADHD

10. More About Marriage and Divorce Statistics:

Here is the link I mentioned earlier, to the  Hernorm website: Marriage and Divorce Statistics: How Many Relationships Last?  It takes a comprehensive, clear look at marriage and divorce in terms of numbers as well as marriage and divorce trends over the years.

The third most common reason for divorce?  “Too much conflict and arguing.”  ADHD Partner Survey respondents cited that as the most common reason for leaving the relationship.

adhd relationship argument

Listen to My Podcast on ADHD and Self-Medicating with Argument

Peace out,

Gina Pera
A version of this post first appeared on April 26, 2010

 

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46 thoughts on “When ADHD Leads to Self-Medicating With Argument”

  1. hey gina it’s mark and i got predbair anti psyco for my adhd the are atypical so would that be the best cousre i have tri vyvanve at 50 milla grat plus runmation and akscdddliity mikik other and feel like i in a game so what you so would be the safe suation, plus i’m nervous for another possible fight however when i fighht happen i feel mo0re at ese

    1. Hi Mark,

      I’d like to try answering your questions. There are a couple of things I’m not clear about.

      Which medication do you take now? (I see “predbair anti psyco” but I don’t know what that means. Is it an anti-psychotic medication?)

      You’ve tried Vyvanse at 50 mg….and it didn’t work well? That is an amphetamine. It might work well for some people with ADHD. Other people with ADHD find it increases their anxiety, irritability, and anger.

      You want to know what could you take, along with this antipsychotic (?) that might lessen your inclination to start a fight? Even though a fight seems to make you feel more at ease (and I understand this completely), you don’t want to make it a habit, right?

      thanks,
      Gina

    2. i got prescribe atypical antipsychotic i’m taking abiltfy and have tried vyvanse at 50 mg i want to know what would be better antipsycotic or methylphenidate

    3. Hi Mark,

      I can’t give medical advice, of course. And individuals have unique neurochemistry.

      I can just say that Abilify is not a first-line treatment for ADHD. Or second, third, or fourth line.

      It is sometimes used with conditions that co-exist with ADHD.

      Vyvanse is an amphetamine, and it has a different mechanism of action than the methylphenidate products do.

      So, if you have not tried a methylphenidate medication (e.g. Concerta, Ritalin, and there are many others now), it’s worth talking to your doctor about.

      This is standard protocol. Some people with ADHD will respond much better to one class of stimulants over another — amphetamines (AMP) or methylphenidate (MPH).

      If you end up getting Concerta, try to get the brand or the authorized generic from Patriot.

      good luck
      g

  2. hey some with adhd here and i’m having this issues by myself and this distructive behavoiur is terrible and hurt me more than ever and want help to change it because some throw all the fight some subcounconsiously it has been consider reward wich i would rath not have this trait how does one help your self help your self to not do some much damge to one self, please help me

    1. Hi Mark,

      I’m glad this post resonated for you — because it points to an important strategy for healing this behavior. And, that is…..treating ADHD symptoms.

      Are you currently diagnosed and taking medication? If so, the medication should be reducing irritablity/boredom/self-medicating behaviors.

      Sometimes people on amphetamines find it makes this pattern worse. So, maybe try the other class of stimulants, methylphenidate.

      Where are you in terms of treatment? There’s typically no good reason that a person has to live with this.

      best,
      Gina

  3. I find this somewhat of a comfort to read this article. Should probably get your book. My ex I think was ADD or ADHD but never diagnosed or treated.

    I have 3 children and the two oldest were diagnosed as ADD or ADHD but never really tested other than with ritalin or treated for it. They are in their 50’s now.

    My youngest almost died when he was born and suffered lack of oxygen to the brain. He has cerebral palsy and we were told mildly retarded but was later tested and said to have learning disabilities. I suspect he may be ADD too because he sure has some of the behavior.

    The sister I am closest to believes she has ADD and has one child and grandchildren with ADD. I have another sister who has never been diagnosed but she too shows some signs of it. My reason for giving all this information is to say how frustrated I have been for years in trying to relate to and get along with all of them……….especially my own children and their dad (by the way I think his 3rd wife may have it too).

    I have been saying for years………I am SO SO tired of the arguing and fighting. You are going along having a conversation and suddenly you are in an argument. Mostly with my children. With their dad, it has been mostly in how he treated me and everyone, which got better but has recently been a little problem.

    With my sister……..no arguments but frustration sometimes in trying to relate to her. She talks freely about herself and family and what she is interested in talking about but when I start to talk about something else its like she just sits quietly and often doesn’t say anything. It always leaves me feeling like there is something she wants to say that she isn’t saying.

    My youngest child who is handicapped just seems to want to debate everything and do the opposite of what I need him to do. I am truly at my wits end with all of them.

    My daughter and I are finally getting along but if I had to live with her, I don’t think we would. Not so much that she wants to fight but due to other problems she has. But the one thing I see in all of them………..they have little to no interest in what you have to say and tend to dismiss you or treat you like you don’t know what you are talking about. When in fact I often know more about what we are discussing than they do.

    Because of the care of my handicapped son and my own health problems at the moment………..I am pretty much isolated and no longer have the opportunity to get out and make other friends. But sometimes trying to relate to those close to me leave me so dissatisfied and frustrated…………I sometimes think I would be better off if isolated myself from them a little bit. I guess what I am trying to say is how do I deal with them so that I don’t come away feeling so disappointed and frustrated and upset. I am obviously expecting more from the relationship than I am going to get.

    I love all of them and don’t want them out of my life. Just want to know how to deal with them.

    1. Hi Sheron,

      Just reading about what you’ve been up against leaves me a bit exhausted. I cannot imagine living with it.

      How can you “deal” with them? That depends on your relationship with each.

      If you read more about this in my first book, https://amzn.to/3ykiqSu, there are some suggestions.

      But overall, the best strategy is to encourage treatment. Random trials of Ritalin is not enough.

      Your sister already “believes” she has ADHD. She might need help doing something about it. (Read Chapter 12!).

      I don’t know about people with CP taking a stimulant. It’s worth asking the treating physician.

      Until they can better manage symptoms, the most you can do is avoid “getting into it” with them. Sometimes, when the person stops getting the “payoff”, they stop the behavior. But probably that doesn’t happen very often!

      Also, if you can find other social connections, it might help you feel less need to socialize with the relatives that create these problems for you. Even online, there are groups.

      Getting validation and support is important.

      My course features a Zoom meeting option, where you could meet other people talking about similar issues. The course itself could explain a LOT for you (and your family).

      Here is the sales page but I suggesting waiting to purchase until tomorrow, when the anniversary sale begins!

      https://adhdsuccesstraining.com/solving-your-adult-adhd-puzzle-for-couples-and-individuals/

      Take care of yourself!!!
      g

  4. I was married to a man with ADHD for 15 years, together 20. We recently divorced and I was looking for answers for my healing journey. I am in therapy (kids too) to talk things out but my experience was very similar to the other commenters and to the article. I always felt he would start fights for small/petty things and I would even say ” this is not worth the fight” but he would go on and on until he punched holes in the walls or I was crying. He would go from “0-100” instantly and he would twist my words until I didn’t know which way was up anymore. If he started getting heated in an argument, I would call him out and say I didn’t want to fight and he would say it was a friendly discussion– if I walked away, he got angry and if I stayed, we talked more and he got angry. He turned to alcohol and medical marijuana to ease his symptoms which only made things worse for me and the kids. I thought he was a narcissist instead.
    We’ve now been divorced 7 months and I have never felt so free and “light”.. as if a huge weight has been lifted. Leaving has been the best thing I could have done for my mental health because I couldn’t cope with it anymore.

    1. Hi Melissa,

      This kind of behavior pattern can be so destructive — to everyone in its path.

      Sometimes, “coping tips” will help….such as walking away and others I mention in my first book.

      But sometimes, it is just relentless and mind-numbing — and no amount of “tips” will help. Only leaving.

      It’s a shame that it comes to that for so many couples and families. For many people, ADHD treatment can help this and many other problematic behaviors.

      take care,
      g

  5. Reading and crying…
    47 years old. Married for 18 years to a 50 year old with ADHD diagnosis (which he got when our son was diagnosed, 11 years ago at age 4).
    The fighting is really bad at the moment. The 4 year old is now 15 and exhibiting the same way of ‘self-medicating’. He does it through ‘profanity’ as well. Looks like Tourette, but different. He’ll just randomly say racist things, or other curse words, to me, his mom as well. Terrible words, but I can almost literally ‘see’ that it’s ‘stress relieve’ for him.
    I just don’t know how much more I can take. My daughter (13) and I are exhausted, and constantly walking on egg shells. There’s this constant under current of tension. When times are stressful it’s all ‘worse’, so these end of year weeks, with exams, school outings, plays etc are ‘the worst’, but the base line is worse too, because we are living with teenagers now (that brings ‘worries’, hence ‘stress’), my husband gets angry about everything… And still, it was comforting to read this, to know I’m not crazy… I used to never ever have arguments with anybody, and he has sucked me in. Whatever I do to ‘avoid’ it, he is not satisfied until we go ‘all out’, until we have screamed, cursed, I have cried (about which he yells that I shouldn’t)… I have used language I never thought I would, which he has since used against me (…but you have also called me…).

    1. Hi Nienke,

      COVID has pushed, for many of us, coping skills to the brink.

      If your son and husband are not getting ADHD treatment, is there some reason for that?

      You’re never going to win with this pattern. And this pattern is probably just one manifestation of problematic ADHD-related behaviors.

      I’m no expert on Tourette’s, but I seem to recall something I read in a paper…..that when Tourette’s exists with ADHD, treating the ADHD can help the Tourette’s “tics” – which can include verbal ones.

      Your son is 15. Honestly, you don’t have much time left to seek meaningful treatment.

      I encourage you to learn all you can. If you haven’t already, read my first book. It will give you a solid foundation.

      Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

      good luck,
      Gina

    2. Thank you so much for your reply Gina. Both husband and son are in medication. We (husband and I) had training on ‘how to deal with children with ADHD’ and we went to couples counseling. In all the therapies and consultations with ‘experts’ though, our ‘fighting’ was addressed as ‘normal fighting’. Advice given to me was to ‘not leave bags in the hallway if I knew my husband was annoyed by that’. What they didn’t seem to get, is that this was just an example from ‘yesterday’ and that tomorrow it would be the teabags misplaced, or whatever…
      Whatever I did, it would never be enough…
      I have always tried to tell my husband that even though there was ‘no judgement’, this was no ‘ordinary way’ of fighting. But he always made it out to be a 50-50 deal… I’m at my wits end, how do I make him see, first of all, that without addressing ‘this issue’, which is, unfortunately ‘his issue’, we will never get out of this…

    3. Hi Nienke,

      Great! You will see what those “counselors” missed. “Don’t leave bags in the hallway.” Yeah, right. lol

      When I conducted the ADHD Partner Survey, in researching my first book, respondents said that “too much fighting” was the major reason for leaving the relationship. There is nothing “normal” about the kind of fighting that can happen. As you saw with this post.

      Truly, a major motivation for me taking up this mission was the absolute, horrifying lack of any understanding about Adult ADHD among “mental health professionals.”

      From prescribers to therapists…..we must be extremely cautious and knowledgeable before even selecting one. And then work WITH them.

      When asked to produce the first ADHD couple therapy clinical guide, I knew it would be a LOT of work — and clinical guides are not huge money makers (not even medium money makers). But I knew that something had to change.

      It took four years! It’s well-regarded but it still takes time for more professionals to start using our model.

      Finally, I created online training. To take the lessons directly to the people, individuals and couples.

      Here is the foundational course.

      https://adhdsuccesstraining.com/solving-your-adult-adhd-puzzle-for-couples-and-individuals/

      Many folks with ADHD aren’t great readers — especially when reading on an unpleasant topic. Many of those folks love my course. Short videos. Non-threatening approach. Sophisticated science presented simply.

      Not trying to sell you here. It’s just a good course that is helping many people.

      I would question how well that medication is being prescribed and suggest revisiting it. I’m almost finished with course 2, on sleep and medication.

      https://ginapera.adhdsuccesstraining.com/course-2-physical-strategies

      take care,
      g

    4. PS: I immediately ordered your book! Reading a whole book is impossible for my husband though, even on medication. Maybe I will just gift it to our local experts, so they can better help us (and others!).

    5. Thank you so much! I think that might be a very good idea. Thank you for all your work on this topic! It felt like such a relief to finally read ‘validation’ of what I have been up against for 18 years, and no one seemed to recognize or understand it, most disregarded it. So thank you!
      I will read the book and will try to mobilize my husband to do the online training. He is always willing to try (mention the positives too!)…

  6. This article about some people with adhd, self medicating with arguments has given me such relief, because I didn’t understand why my boyfriend with adhd would provoke and explode fights even when I didn’t want to fight or engage in a fight. I tried being empathetic, reflecting, and not taking the bait … and still by bf with adhd twisted my words, insulted me and broke up with me telling me to “go to hell.” I never insulted him, I just tried to support him and give my view on things and he instead would impose his beliefs of what I thought, opinions I don’t believe in, or things I didn’t even say! It was almost like he was fighting with a character he was making up. When he tried to provoke me I would just say “ok” and walk away, because I didn’t want to fight! Im so tired and relieved he broke up with me. I blocked him because Im afraid he’ll come back or even come look for me. Honestly I feel like stress left my body… after he told me we were done. Happy crying right now. I don’t deserve to be anyone’s emotional, mental punching bag.

    1. Hi D,

      I’m glad you found my blog post!

      Perfect way to summarize — “it was almost like he was fighting with a character he was making up.”

      Sounds like he did you a favor by breaking things off.

      If this happens again with anyone — a relative, co-worker, date – you will recognize it quickly now.

      take care,
      g

  7. This was a great article. I recently noticed this behavior in myself, a 60 yr old male adult with ADHD. I could feel the adrenaline rush as I slowly but surely spoke antagonistically to my spouse and watched the argument unfold as if I was a third party spectator. Ironically, after the argument I had the best night sleep while leaving everyone else in turmoil. How awful! Everyone wants an apology while I, the instigator, was completely confused as to why it even unfolded the way it did.

    1. Hi Paul,

      Thank you so much! That is an extremely vivid and economical paragraph, explaining this phenomenon so expertly from the inside out.

      g

  8. I wonder if Putin has ADHD?
    (Disclaimer: no offence intended to anyone in any way, except for one man)
    PS: Gina, I believe you have the patience of a saint

    1. Hi Josie!

      Haha! I’m not seeing the ADHD in Putin. He’s been playin ga “long game,” it seems.

      My theory is that his ego is entirely the state (like Louis XIV — l’etat, c’est moi!). And he has a fatal diagnosis. So he’s going all out. Perhaps treatment for that fatal diagnosis has made him behave even more irrationally. Who can read the mine of a sociopathic despot! ? 🙂

      Re: patience of a saint…my husband is sitting right here at the breakfast table with me. He says, “Her husband confirms that is true.”

      Which is very sweet of him, as I still am 100% Italian and a lower-by-the-year tolerance for BS of any kind. 🙂

      Take care, kid! Thanks for writing.

      G

  9. These comments and this article are incredibly devastating to me.

    It becomes very clear that ADHD is sorely misunderstood.

    People with ADHD think differently. They have bursts of thoughts simultaneously. They do not think linearly or in an organized fashion. Because of this, different connections can be made. Neurotypicals have a society to which they belong, that creates social constructs and rules. Well, so do people with ADHD. Just because they are the minority does not make their experience or their reality less valuable than yours.

    A lot of negativity is directed toward people with ADHD simply because they are misunderstood or follow different social rules. The same way people may think a person with ADHD is rude and that person is unaware, the neurotypical can be considered rude to a person with ADHD and be unaware. You expect the person with ADHD to correct this, but not the neurotypical to correct it. So then, everything involves the person who has executive function difficulties also accommodating everyone else on top of dealing with their struggles.

    Which is what people with ADHD do constantly and to no avail (I say no avail because regardless of how much effort is put forth on behalf of the ADHD individual, they will still receive criticism and negativity and be told they should “try harder” all the while receiving no effort from the other party to reconcile anything)

    Blaming ADHD for arguments also allows neurotypicals to argue and blame the person with ADHD and feel guiltless about it. But it’s quite frustrating as someone with ADHD who avoids conflict that someone who read this article and consistently is quick to anger says it must be me because it would feed my ADHD. When in every other aspect in my life, there is zero conflict. Further, I have a child with ADHD. The child is argumentative. But it comes from being raised with double standards. That’s common with Oppositional Defiant disorder.

    That one parent is strict and the other lenient. Well the child is in a blended family and has 4 parents. 2 are overly lenient. 1 is quite strict. 1 is middle of the road. And the child has step siblings who have an entirely different and much more lenient upbringing. Different rules applied to different kids about the same things. In the same house. The child with ADHD feels resentful for being held to a much higher nearly impossible standard while nobody else is.

    So before you blame conflict on ADHD consider that maybe it’s not ADHD at the root, or people who get a rise from arguments (actually they kill the person with ADHD’s self esteem), but perhaps defending themselves as a vulnerable population against people who use that as an excuse to create and engage in conflict or just simply don’t understand ADHD.

    1. Hi Victoria,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’m sorry that you feel devastated. That was never my intention.

      If I read it in the same way you apparently have, and if I had ADHD, I’d be insulted and lose all interest in the writer’s other work.

      But can we step back a minute? From what you’ve written, it seems you have interpreted the article as being “negative” about ADHD and ADHD-related different communication/thinking styles. You view the post as being about “neurotypicals” not understanding people with ADHD and so saying bad things about them.

      I wonder if you read it again, slowly, with a more open mind, you might have a different interpretation.

      In the CBT models shown effective for ADHD, we talk about how thoughts/interpretations guide our feelings — and then our reactions. By attributing many things to this post that are not there (thought), it’s quite possible you created your own a counter-productive feeling (“devastated”).

      Instead, what I’ve presented here is one particular issue — the very real potential among some with ADHD for “self-medicating with argumentation”.

      This “self-medicating with argumentation” phenomenon is real, though not universal. This is not a case of linear vs. non-linear or ADHD vs. Non-ADHD.

      NOTHING is universal among people with ADHD. We are talking hundreds of genes as potential contributors to ADHD symptoms, along with all the other genes and aspects of personality. We are also talking about all variety of co-existing conditions and lifestyle habits that further impair cognition (poor sleep, etc..)

      I know it’s quite popular online these days to talk about “neurotypicals vs neurodiverse.” To talk about the “ADHD Brain.” But while many people with ADHD can relate to variable aspects of having ADHD, they aren’t clones.

      All that is marketing lingo, designed to dumb-down the complexity of ADHD and….let’s be honest, sell stuff, gain a following on Twitter, etc.. without having to do the hard work of understanding ADHD in all its potential complexity.

      The human population is called “neurodiverse”. Meaning, our brains are not cookie-cutters. Each human brain is like a snowflake—different than all the other brains. That goes for people with ADHD, too.

      Unfortunately, amateurs and self-promoters have hijacked these terms for their own self-serving agenda.

      Nothing about ADHD is simple. But one fact is true: ADHD is related to dysregulated dopamine transmission in the brain. That means people with poorly managed ADHD often find themselves constantly searching for greater stimulation in their environment.

      That’s why people with untreated ADHD are more vulnerable to developing addictions. Videogames, speeding, social media, and alcohol, to name a few “self-medicating” activities….AND unconsciously provoking arguments.

      You write: Further, I have a child with ADHD. The child is argumentative. But it comes from being raised with double standards.

      Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’re not. Either way, that is one child with ADHD. An “n” of 1 does not negate the point I am making in this blog post.

      So, before you blame a blog post for creating an emotional impact on you, perhaps you want to consider that you might be mis-understanding or missing a larger view of this highly complex syndrome called ADHD.

      Cheers,
      g

  10. Braxton Johnson

    Hey, I really liked this article. I’m not sure if kids are supposed to comment here, but I figured I’d do it anyway. I just had a question. I have a tendency to argue with my parents, strangers on the internet, and generally anyone who dislikes me, or gives me criticism.

    I can handle constructive criticism, I like it actually, but any opposition I have, I tend to provoke. Like you explained, it makes me feel better. I wouldn’t describe it as an adrenaline rush, I’d describe it as… it’s like I need to channel my energy into something that I can be aggressively passionate about.

    And when you’re a gay, politically averse, athiest, and (not to toot my own horn) extremely smart child with 70 year old, adoptive, republican, and Christian parents who believe the world is going to hell with the new generation, I’m sure you can imagine the environment.

    Despite that, I tend to get along with my parents most of the time. But that isn’t the point, and here I am going a little off topic. My point is, I don’t just argue. I insult people a little, sure, but nothing harsh. I debate. I wait my turn to speak, then destroy my opponent with small put downs, while I bring up facts and figures, explain the small minded reasoning behind things they believe in, and it drives them nuts.

    My friends praise me for my ability to always have the right comeback, and to always make intelligent arguments. And it feels good. But, it’s obviously not healthy. So my question is this: Would joining the debate club at school be beneficial, or harmful? I’m going to try to become a lawyer, that’s been decided, but I need to know if I should. The way I argue indicates I’d be a great lawyer, since I follow the rules of debating. But is it worth it? It’s just so conflicting. Any advice?

    1. Hi Braxton,

      Of course “kids” are welcome here!

      Thanks for your interesting, well-articulated question.

      In fact, it’s a little spooky, as if you read my mind.

      Just last night, I remembered I was supposed to write an article on this theme — but regarding children with ADHD —for CHADD’s Attention magazine when I had time. Well, I haven’t had time, but I still have the material. So why not add a bit to this article.

      And there you are!

      But if you aren’t starting the argument — if instead, you are reacting to criticism directed at you — that’s not really the same thing, is it? The fact that you mostly get along well with parents having the affiliations you describe seems to indicate that you aren’t always “looking for an argument.” Or it’s that you are emotionally connected to your parents and don’t want to hurt them.

      I find what you describe healthier than “grin and bear it.” But healthier still might be….ignoring it, not taking your critics’ bait. But then…. maybe you can evolve to that in a few years.

      It’s funny….halfway through, I thought….maybe Braxton would make a good attorney. 🙂

      The downside of legal work, of course, is the many tedious details, which seem the overwhelming part of the job unless you get to be an F. Lee Bailey. A household name years before he got involved with the OJ Simpson case.

      I come from a family of people with witty and acerbic rapid-fire comebacks. Especially at the holiday dinner table, with all 25 of us. I prided myself on it into my young adult years. I liked that it especially seemed to take aback people who had perceived me as just another pretty face, a well-mannered Southern girl. 🙂 haha. That was fun.

      Of course over the years, I came to see that not everyone prized this ability. Plus, it no longer suited my personality and values.

      My friends who were school debaters saw it as an incredibly valuable activity. I think it’s served them well throughout life, with parsing complex issues, with seeing other points of view, etc.. Seems wholly worthwhile to me!

      Thanks for dropping in,

      g

  11. Hi, I have a daughter who’s seventeen and a senior in HS she just got diagnosed during this year with ADHD, over the last few months she has got more and more argumentative over everything! I’m exhausted and feeling so drained I don’t know what to do. I can never reason with her about anything, it’s like she has her mind set and as irrational as her idea maybe she won’t back down at all. My daughter gets along well with her friends and others but at home she goes from this sweet caring kid to all of a sudden bursting into these crazy blown out arguements with my husband, her sister and I. It’s just seems to be getting worse and worse. I do t know what to do.

    1. Hi Lorraine,

      Is there something missing from your story? You say she got diagnosed but you don’t mention if she’s started medication.

      If she has, I’d say that is the likely culprit — the wrong medication for her or the wrong dosage. Read my book to understand how the medication process should go — but seldom does.

      If the issue isn’t one of medication, well, this year has been an obviously hard one for millions of people. And she’s 17, a senior, and about to “launch”. That can bring a lot of anxiety.

      I hope this helps,
      g

  12. Dear Gina
    I am late diagnose at 32 with ADHD and now I am 34 with ADHD and frankly meds Does wonders. I am fortunately to have been born with high IQ and on top have identifyed and retrospectively applied many ADHD friendly productivity tools and self awareness methods to actually obtain and maintain near health relationships and career. Meds helps alot through and I often Wonder how I ever did get anything done berfore.

    I Stumpled upon your article and have a few follow-up questions regarding ADHD and conflicts.

    First of I have an ill and unintended tendency to inspire conflicts, anger and frustration in others. Ofte with No awareness to what behavior may have caused those both externalised or passive agrressive outburst towards me.

    What I find to be even worse and invilidating is, that the se conflicts tends to spiral in My head as self initiated simulation of feeling and respons scenarios. It’s especially these internal simulation spiral, that Are invilidating to me. I have a patient wife and 3 wonderfull small Boys, but these internal simulation and following negative emotions is not Nice to bring Home and to be stock in.

    Themost frustration conflicts Are worrelated and happens most ofte. When one of the following things happens:

    1) I’m relaying information that I have covered through verious experts or research. I oftem get alot of push back in these situations. I do not understand why as I am not trying to push Any agenda other than presenting what I have learned.

    2) When I ask for permissions to act on something, take initiative to get things done, bring up ideas or respons to the ideas and input of others.

    At the moment I try to avoid and leave those situations and roles that has historically has set meup for conflicts spirals, to save myself and my Family for the subsequent pain.

    As My one of my main long term goals is to be concidered constructive and supportive in professional collaboration and interaction I would love som input on how to achieve this and at the same time rid My self of the invalidating internal conflicts simulations.

    Hope you have som inputs

    1. Hi Jep,

      Hurrah for you. It seems you’ve made some remarkably positive changes in your life with diagnosis, medication, and awareness.

      I’m not sure I exactly understand your “frustration conflicts” and the scenarios in which they arise.

      For example, when you “ask for permissions to act on something,” are you wanting an answer RIGHT NOW? 🙂

      ADHD-fueled impatience can be a bit over-bearing in that regard. Most folks in supervisory positions like to think over a team member’s suggestion before giving the green light. And they don’t like feeling pressured, especially verbally. Putting some of these ideas in writing (succinctly) might be a better option.

      As for when you are “relaying information,” I might have experienced that myself. 🙂 What I’ve learned is that everyone isn’t like me–they don’t like to research an issue to a faretheewell and they especially don’t like it second-hand. 🙂

      Is it possible that you could frankly chat with one of your team members? One that you are friendly with and feel confident won’t mock you, etc.? It would be helpful to know more from someone in these situations with you. You could just say, “I wonder if you could be a sounding board for a minute. I’ve noticed that when I share pertinent research to an issue we’re discussing, I get push back, as if I’m trying to sell these ideas instead of simply sharing research. Do you know what I mean? Could you shed some light on how I might be coming across?”

      With any luck, the person might say, “You bring up great information, but unfortunately, we work with a lot of chuckleheads.” 🙂

      Or maybe you will get really useful information, “You bring up great information, but it’s just too much and in the wrong context. No offense, buddy, but you come off as a know-it-all.”

      Either way, data is always helpful!

      There’s a really great book on Adult ADHD and social situations by an ADHD expert, Michele Novotni, PhD. It’s out of print now but you could buy a used copy. Maybe there is a chapter devoted to work situations.

      Maybe check it out: https://amzn.to/3oUPCK7

      ONE MORE THING: It just might be that your medication regimen could use tweaking. There might be times during the day and into the evening where the medication is wearing off and symptoms are returning, without your noticing. It might also be that you’re taking a stimulant — Adderall, for example — that is known, for some people, to create an “overfocus” or “tunnel vision” mindset. Ask your wife for feedback. Ask her to work with you on fine-tuning the Rx, if that’s an issue.

      I hope this helps!
      g

      https://amzn.to/3oUPCK7

  13. I recognized a couple years back that my now 60 year old female, former best friend with adhd was antagonizing me routinely for the stimulation and chemical rush. She was often contrary and oppositional, but her absolute favorite tactic is mind numbing, incessant blabbering about nothing. She goes on for hours and it is nonsense and impossible to understand. She would do it to the point of putting me into a 4F trauma response, and I know she did it consciously and deliberately after learning what a power trip this gave her.

    I consider it a disgusting display of malignant narcissism. It is hurtful manipulation for self gratification, no matter how much she wants to excuse it as a benign adhd symptom. I even suggested she be evaluated for bipolar spectrum disorder because her behavior would be insane as well as driving me insane. I have often wondered if stimulant meds were a part of the pattern. She said she wasn’t taking them anymore, but I don’t really believe her because she acted like a complete a** yet I swear she thought she was clever and amusing. I will never speak to her again. The torture went on for years.

    1. Hi Lisbeth,

      That sounds awful. This behavior is never a “benign ADHD symptom.”

      There are many possible explanations, including those you include.

      ADHD often gets worse over time, especially with/after menopause.

      I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself.

      Gina

  14. Here’s another thought. Try paying attention to when the angry outbursts happen. If they are limited to evenings, what is being described could be ADHD rebound effect. Basically, it’s a return in ADHD symptoms as the ADHD medication is wearing off or has worn off. What was well controlled during the day starts to rear its ugly head again at night when the ADHD med. has worn off.

    I would also be on the lookout for depression and anxiety. It’s a very common sidecar of ADHD. Anger can be part of depression or feelings of overwhelm due to functional challenges associated with ADHD.

    An adjustment in medication or timing of medication or talking to a professional may be needed?

    1. Hi Gwen

      Thanks for pointing out the hazards of “rebounding.”

      Definitely this type of behavior can resurface at those times. Medication strategies should definitely be revisited. Most prescribing that I hear about is done very poorly, with little regard for rebound or treating the full range of symptoms.

      And I did mention comorbids.

      My point with this article, though, is that it can be ADHD itself. As Dr. Amen explains, this can happen with many frontal-lobe conditions.

      Cheers,
      G

    2. Yes, I wondered if it was adderall rebound or something, but she had said she wasn’t taking it anymore. The thing that tipped the scale all the way for good was how pleased with herself she would be…just completely blown up like a balloon with self satisfaction (and dopamine, in all likelihood); and smirking and mocking my distress. I could clearly see it. I would be shaking uncontrollably. There is something else going on. Anyway thank you Gwen and Gina, I appreciate your replies.

    3. You are welcome, Lisbeth. It’s very important to understand these patterns, lest they do you in.

      Mental illness is no joke. “Denial” is no joke. Destructive pathology can follow in its wake.

      take care of yourself,
      g

  15. WOW! This information explains SOOO much! It needs to be taught to all therapists, psychologists, counselors, etc… Many therapists really do not understand ADHD and it’s common companion ‘conflict seeking behavior’.

    1. HI Betsy,

      So true. Many learned about it in my first book, though, and some will learn from my new book: Adult ADHD-Focused Couple Therapy. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment.
      g

  16. Kathleen Petrie

    Interesting concept that ADHDers get an adrenaline rush out of arguing. My husband has full blown ADHD and was tested at the Clark (now CAMH). He often uses “the world is falling apart and everything is going to pot”. He has managed to make people burst out crying because of his relentless negative focus on the economy falling apart, etc. Maybe this gives him an adrenaline rush.

    His anger is usually in the form of paranoia. Everyone is out to get him and we are all conspiring against him. In his eyes, I have turned my children against him. Meanwhile , they have had to deal with his uncontrollable verbal diarrhea ,sporadic anger and embarrassing comments especially when around their friends for years and are now at the age where they do not understand why he has not matured and does not know how to control these things.. They feel like they are surpassing him in maturity. They are so angry with him but he thinks it is because I have turned them against him.

    Thanks for this info!

    1. Hi Kathleen,

      Thanks for your comment. It is one I’ve heard variations on for years now, unfortunately.

      Yes, “looking for disaster on the horizon” is one way to self-medicate.

      Your second paragraph, I fear, describes a large chunk of the American population right now. They were spending like there was no tomorrow in the 80s, 90s, and this past decade. They thought jobs would always be plentiful and the stock market would stay up up up. So would the houses. Now, the “bubble” has burst and they are surprised and eagerly looking for someone to blame–other than themselves, of course.

      Talking about seeing disaster on the horizon, I’ve seen this coming for many years now. lol! My mother, who came of age during the Great Depression, warned me of the signs, and there they all were.

      I hope you can find a way to encourage your husband to seek mental health treatment — for him, you, and the children.

      g

    2. BigSisterMama

      Kathleen, I feel like you wrote my own response! I knew for years my ex was self-medicating with conflict and paranoia, and, yes, no matter what, he found a way to get me to respond to him, usually by scaring or mistreating the children. I finally got a restraining order against him, and have been able to live peacefully, except for the ongoing legal issues he causes. In court, his side is trying to make this a “mutual marital issue”, where we were both to blame for “fighting”. Any idea how to show this phenomena legally, to prove that he was the aggressor the entire time?

    3. I hope Kathleen responds to you, BigSisterMama.

      Until then, I hope you can find any documentation you might have to support your case.

      Also, you might familiarize yourself with the work of Bill Eddy and the High Conflict Institute.

      I quoted him in my book, about dealing with such persons in family court.

      http://www.highconflictinstitute.com/

      Good luck!
      g

  17. Hi Dr. Parker,

    “May Denial” is fascinating. I completely understand; our local Adult ADHD discussion group often attracts young people who’ve gotten to college and completely flopped thanks to unrecognized ADHD symptoms or “denial” about their severity.

    Even if they had been treated for ADHD in high school, some say that they never really believed it was a problem, that it was mainly in their parent’s imagination. So, when they left home, they stopped all thought of ADHD, stopped medication, etc.

    It’s easy to see how this “deflection” response presents itself in so many areas of unacknowledged conditions.

    As for the military, I was just speaking to a friend about that this week, saying I get so frustrated hearing news reports about the “difficult transition” that soldiers have in returning to civilian life–with never a mention that some chose the military because they could not function well in unstructured civilian life. So there’s no “return” about it!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share this with us.

    g

  18. Gina,
    We see this phenomenon especially with kids here in the April, May time frame, near the end of school. In our office we call it *May Denial* – it is the end of deflection.

    Juniors, and often Seniors in HS or college, are approaching the end of the year’s grading period, and they are suddenly facing the fact that the deteriorating grades will prove they:

    1. Have not been taking their meds
    2. Do have an ADHD problem, and, though smart, are tanking with irresponsibility
    3. Did create the conflicts all spring with their parents over marijuana, boys, or girls, or study rules
    4. Are unable to rule the world
    5. Can no longer dodge and run

    During these weeks unresolved pressures clearly originate as their own problem, and the denial is broken – so they come rushing with considerable pressure into the office requesting a med fix, can become suicidal, or dangerous.

    In adults it becomes *Transition Denial* seen even with bright senior officers in the military who have mastered the military system, created a safe mastery of structure and now have to move into the unknown multiple variables of civilian live. They can become dangerous [it’s the wife’s fault], have affairs, and create all kinds of mayhem until they actually enter that new civilian reality. This is a great time for coaching with ADHD coaches and would be a great specialty for any coach near military bases.

    The *End of Deflection?*

    Thanks for bringing this interesting phenomenon back to us.
    cp

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