Explosive Disorder

What Is Intermittent Explosive Disorder?

We have all had experiences where we lost our temper and felt angrier than the situation may have warranted. Living with this on a daily basis can be overwhelming when you do not have the coping skills necessary to redirect these emotions. Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is characterized by chronic bouts of anger that are disproportionate to the igniting factor. The sensation that you cannot control your own actions and responses is often followed by immediate relief and, later, intense shame or guilt due to the lack of self-control. Negative consequences often do not affect IED and it can occur even in situations where an angry outburst can cause lasting damage to professional or personal relationships.

According to statistics from the National Institutes of Health, IED affects approximately 7% of adults, or around 16 million people. The same percentage of young adults meet the criteria for IED. To be diagnosed with IED, you must have experienced at least three situations during which you reacted with disproportionate anger to a trigger that did not warrant such a volatile response. Anyone who has had three instances within a twelve-month period is considered to have a severe case of IED.

What Are the Symptoms of IED?

It can be hard for family and friends to recognize the signs of IED since they can be mistaken for irrational anger. People with IED may also have trouble communicating effectively about what they are feeling and experiencing during one of these bouts of rage. This might make it more difficult for them to get help as they may be seen as trying to avoid responsibility for their actions. It is essential to understand that EID is a mental health disorder that can be effectively treated.

Before experiencing an IED episode, you may notice the following physical reactions:

A tightening of the chest and heart palpitations
Tense muscles and trembling or tingling of the extremities
Inability to focus and racing thoughts
A boost in energy levels (e.g., “flight or fight” adrenaline response)
Feelings of extreme irritability or rage

IED symptoms include the following when they take place in response to situations that do not warrant such an aggressive response:

Starting heated arguments over small things
Temper tantrums and tirades
Aggressive behavior like slapping, shoving, shouting, or pushing
Physically fighting and assaulting either other people or animals
Damaging property

What Are the Risk Factors?

Finding healthy ways to cope with stress and frustration is a way to decrease explosive anger, but it’s not always easy. When outside pressure is combined with other risk factors, it can cause an IED episode. Chronic levels of daily stress have been directly linked to the development of this disorder.

A person growing up in a home where one or more parents were diagnosed with IED or other psychiatric disorders is more likely to develop emotion regulation problems and mental health disorders. In 2010 the University of Chicago published a study that concluded that IED could have some genetic factors and may be passed along to first-degree relatives.

Some of the known risk factors for intermittent explosive disorder include the following:
  • Stress
  • Financial strain
  • Divorce
  • Genetics
  • Having a parent with IED
  • Being exposed to violence
  • Personal history of abuse or neglect
  • Multiple mental conditions including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder

Do I Have Intermittent Explosive Disorder?

If you believe you or a loved one may be suffering from intermittent explosive disorder, our assessment may be a beneficial tool. Although the assessment can not be used as a definitive diagnosis, it can help to determine how many symptoms associated with explosive disorder a person may be facing.

We base our assessment questions on the criteria laid out by the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Regardless to the results of the assessment, it is important to note that intermittent explosive disorder must be diagnosed by a trained medical professional.

IED and Comorbidities

The National Institutes of Health reports that 82% of adults with intermittent explosive disorder also have co-occurring disorders. A 2016 study by the University of Chicago found evidence that comorbidities could increase the amount and degree of aggression shown by people diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder. Some of the commonly co-occurring disorders they found during their research include post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety disorders. They also found that individuals with PTSD and IED tended to be more aggressive, impulsive, angry, and prone to suicidal ideations.

IED and Recovery

Recovery involves continual progress and certain situations like having an aggressive response to mild inconveniences can feel like backtracking. This does not have to be the case if you are working to understand your reactions and find alternative, less violent ways to express yourself.

Mood swings and irritability are commonly observed symptoms of substance abuse and detox. The added stress of facing responsibilities and making tough choices can sometimes be enough to push you over the edge into an IED episode. Some treatments can help make it easier and less stressful.

What Treatments are Available?

Intermittent explosive disorder can be treated through a combination of talk therapy for learning how to express yourself in healthy ways and medication to help alleviate stress and decrease impulsivity. Learning to manage your anger can take time, but it is an entirely treatable condition.

If you are someone with IED, there are a few ways you can minimize the instances of aggression and anger. The Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

  • Find ways to communicate and problem solve before frustrations grow too large
  • Continue with therapy and use the coping skills you learn
  • Regularly use relaxation techniques including deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness
  • Leave the stressful environment when you notice yourself becoming overwhelmed
  • Avoid substances that can alter your mood or decrease your control

Reach Out and Get Help Today

If you or a loved one have IED, it is time to get extra support. At Create Recovery Center, we understand that disorders like intermittent explosive disorder can have a lasting impact on your life and we want to help. Reach out today for more information.