What is Intermittent Explosive Disorder?

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January 5, 2012
Physical abuse. Road rage. Extreme aggression. Think temper tantrums that involve throwing or breaking objects. Sometimes such erratic eruptions can be caused by a condition known as intermittent explosive disorder or IED. You may be unfamiliar with the name, but chances are you've witnessed the angry outbursts that characterize intermittent explosive disorder. According to a national institute of mental health study, the disorder occurs most often in young men and may affect as many as one in 14 U.S. adults. People with this condition tend to repeatedly engage in uncontrollable explosions. During a flare-up, IED sufferers often attack others or their possessions, resulting in bodily injury or property damage. Later, people with intermittent explosive disorder may feel remorse, regret or embarrassment. But IED isn't limited to harming others! Fully 16-percent of people with the condition also engage in acts of self-aggression. No matter the target, attacks of intermittent explosive disorder tend to last about 10 to 20 minutes. And a study conducted in 2006 suggests that IED is considerably more prevalent than previously thought. In a study of almost 10,000 individuals 18 years or older, lifetime episodes were reported at 7.3%, while 12-month occurrences were reported at 3.9%. This suggests an average lifetime occurrence of 43 instances, with about $1,359 in property damage. They are often accompanied by physical symptoms, including heart palpitations, head pressure, chest tightness, and body tremors. After an explosive outburst is over, it's not uncommon for feelings of embarrassment and remorse to surface. So why do people with intermittent explosive disorder act the way they do? Children, exposed to violence and abuse, appear to have a greater chance of developing intermittent explosive disorder as teens and adults. The condition may also be genetic, meaning the disorder is passed from one generation to the next. People suffering from anxiety, depression, or substance abuse are also more likely to be diagnosed with IED. In fact, about 82-percent of people diagnosed with IED have one of these disorders! Additionally, people with intermittent explosive disorder may have an imbalance in certain brain chemicals, including serotonin and testosterone. IED can make it difficult to engage in meaningful relationships and even to hold down a job! For this reason, treatment is aggressive and often focused on prescription medication. Drugs used to treat IED include antidepressants, like Prozac and Paxil anti-anxiety medications, like Valium and Xanax, anticonvulsants, such as Lamictal and Dilantan, and mood regulators, like Lithium. People with intermittent explosive disorder may also find that anger management group meetings and talk therapy can help them control their symptoms. Knowing this, it makes sense to seek help from a mental health professional if you or someone you love is affected by this disorder!
Last Updated:
July 16, 2012