Signs, Symptoms, and Effects of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Understanding IED

Learn More About Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is a disorder that is characterized by impulsive acts of aggression and unjustified attacks of anger. This impulse-control disorder causes both adolescents and adults to be unable to control their temper and to act in a hostile manner that is out of proportion for the situation at hand. Adolescents and adults who have IED have said that before an outburst they usually feel a sense of arousal or tension and then followed by a sense of relief after the aggressive act. Intermittent explosive disorder can cause people to attack anything in their path, from objects to animals, and/or other people. While individuals with IED feel that their aggressive behaviors are justified, they generally feel genuinely upset, regretful, remorseful, or embarrassed about their impulsive and aggressive behavior.

The symptoms of IED typically present themselves in the early teen years. However, individuals are not given a diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder unless they have displayed at least three episodes of unprovoked, impulsive aggressiveness that is considered to be grossly out of proportion to any preexisting psychosocial stressors. While IED can be extremely disruptive to an individual, and the lives of those around them, with proper treatment it can be successfully managed.


Statistics of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Intermittent explosive disorder is said to affect approximately 1 in 12 teenagers. It is also believed that nearly 82% of people who have IED are also suffering from another mental health disorder, with the most common being depression, bipolar disorder, and/or substance abuse disorders. This disorder seems to be more prevalent in males, and the most common age of onset is the period between late childhood and the early 20s.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Intermittent Explosive Disorder

While an exact cause is not known, the development of intermittent explosive disorder is believed to be the result of a combination of genetic, physical, and environmental factors. Some causes may include:

Genetic: Researchers and other professionals in the field have come to the conclusion that there is some genetic component to the presence of IED because the traits have been known to be passed down from parents to children. However, there has not yet been any specific gene identified.

Physical: Recent study findings have suggested that IED may be the result of abnormalities in certain areas of the brain that are responsible for regulating behavioral arousal and inhibition. Additionally, impulsive aggression is related to abnormal brain mechanisms in areas that inhibit motor activity through the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Environmental: Many people believe that the environment in which a person grows up can have a significant impact on whether or not he or she will develop the symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder. For example, it is believed by some that children who grew up in a home where they were given harsh punishments will develop the symptoms of IED because they are following the examples of the violent behaviors that were set by their parents.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male (IED is said to be more prevalent in men than it is in women)
  • Family history of mental illness, especially mood disorders
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Exposure to violence
  • Having been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused
  • Growing up in a chaotic environment
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Certain medical conditions

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

The signs and symptoms of IED will depend upon each individual. These explosive episodes usually last less than 30 minutes and often result in verbal assaults, injuries, and deliberate destruction of property. Additionally, episodes can occur in clusters or be separated by weeks or months with periods of nonaggression. Examples of symptoms that an adolescent or adult suffering from intermittent explosive disorder may exhibit can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Breaking or smashing things
  • Excessive, unprovoked angry outbursts
  • Road rage
  • Self-harm
  • Damaging property
  • Physically attacking people
  • Verbal aggressiveness

Physical symptoms:

  • Muscle tension
  • Tingling sensations
  • Tremors
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Hearing echoes

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling a sense of losing control

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Rage
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Uncontrollable irritability
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Extreme anger


Effects of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Without treatment, the long-term effects of IED can be detrimental to the lives of adolescents and adults. Some examples of the negative effects of untreated intermittent explosive disorder can include:

  • Academic failure
  • Being suspended or expelled from school
  • Low self-worth
  • Job loss
  • Financial difficulty
  • Inability to develop and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Social isolation
  • Legal problems and incarceration
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders & the Complexity of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

It is common for people who are suffering from IED to suffer from symptoms of other mental disorders as well. Sometimes the symptoms of the disorders will overlap or will directly mirror the symptoms of another illness. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Conduct disorder (CD)
  • Depressive disorders
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Personality disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
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